By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The chief justice has revealed that "five significant" reform initiatives will be unveiled before 2019 year-end to start bringing the judicial system "in line with 21st century best practices".
Brian Moree QC, addressing new attorney admissions to the Bahamas Bar Association, disclosed that they involved the use of technology to tackle the shortage of court reporters in the Magistrate's Court and Supreme Court; the completion of new Supreme Court rules; and the use of technology and e-mail communications to obtain court dates.
He added that the other targets involved the introduction of software modules dealing with bail applications for criminal cases and maintenance/financial support orders in the Family Court, describing the latter as a "challenging area".
"You are entering the legal profession at a very interesting time as we are engaged in a major programme of substantial reform and modernisation in the Court system," Chief Justice Moree told the new attorneys.
"Put simply, our objective is to bring the judiciary and our courts into the 21st century in line with best practices. In this regard we are looking at a wide range of issues in the criminal, civil, commercial and family divisions."
Chief Justice Moree identified case management rules and procedures; how cases are listed for hearing; the operations of the court registries; "the heavy and cumbersome reliance on large volumes of paper throughout the system"; the payment of fees and fines; cutting the backlog of cases; and the creation of an information and communications technology (ICT) platform.
Specialist courts are also on his agenda, and he added: "In the short term, between now and the end of this year, we expect to introduce at least five significant initiatives in our reform programme.
"The first one is a new software module dealing with bail applications in criminal cases. The process will be automated through a customised e-application with a web-based portal for lawyers and other users, together with physical stations located in the Criminal Registry and the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services."
Arguing that this would improve system efficiency, the Chief Justice added: "The second initiative is a software module for use in the Magistrates' Family Court dealing with maintenance payments and other financial support orders for parties involved in proceedings before that court.
"Historically this has been a challenging area dealing with a very large volume of cases, where money is paid into court pursuant to a court order for ultimate onward payment to the receiving party. Currently the processing of the orders and disbursement of funds involve unacceptable delays and inconvenience for both paying and receiving parties.
"Under the new procedure parties will not have to go to the Magistrates Court complex on Nassau Street to make payments or collect monies. The procedure will be automated and operate similar to the topping up of telephone cards through compact terminals in retail outlets and other public buildings. This will save an enormous amount of time and inconvenience for the public."
Emphasising his desire to embed "a more service-orientated culture" in the Bahamian judiciary, Chief Justice Moree added: "The third project relates to the recording of proceedings in the Magistrates Court and the Supreme Court. Currently there are no court reporters in the Magistrates Court, and therefore magistrates have to keep a handwritten record of the proceedings.
"This is inefficient and substantially delays the course of cases in those courts. In the Supreme Court there is a shortage of court reporters which, again, impedes the efficient disposition of cases and applications. We will be introducing a technological solution which will address these matters."
Besides finalising the new Supreme Court rules, the Chief Justice said the fifth project involves "an initial pilot programme which will change the way in which matters are listed before the courts to utilise e-mail communications and a shorter turnaround time for obtaining fixture dates for applications.
"We will also introduce motion judges for certain interlocutory applications and duty judges for urgent applications," he said. "You will be hearing more about these initiatives in the coming weeks and months as I issue new practice directions in the roll-out of the components of the reform and modernisation programme."