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Hargun: works could create court backlog

  • Ceremonial opening of Bermuda’s legal year: pictured, from left, are Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons, Puisne Judge Nicole Stoneham, Chief Justice Narinder Hargun, Puisne Judge Shade Subair, senior magistrate Juan Wolffe and Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Renovation work at Sessions House could force the judiciary out of the building and create a backlog of cases, it was revealed yesterday.

But Chief Justice Narinder Hargun said that the Government was “keenly aware” of the problem over Supreme Court 1 and wanted to make sure suitable temporary accommodation was available while the work was carried out.

Mr Justice Hargun said the judiciary was unable to use a courtroom in the former court registry on the corner of Front Street and Court Street.

He added that the loss of the Sessions House courtroom would leave only one court shared between the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, which would also lead to delays in trials.

Mr Justice Hargun said: “Last year, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley advised that the accommodation issues had been resolved with the opening of the court registry on Front Street.

“This meant that the Supreme Court would have available to it two criminal courts — one in Sessions House and one in Dame Lois Browne Evans Building — and the Front Street court could be reserved at all times for the Court of Appeal.

“However, regrettably the Front Street facility has been closed for health reasons.

“With the closure of the Front Street court, we do not have a separate facility for the Court of Appeal.”

The Court of Appeal has been using a courtroom in the Magistrates’ Court or Supreme Court 1.

The Chief Justice said the loss of the registry courtroom meant one of the two courts used by the Supreme Court for criminal cases was taken over by the Court of Appeal for nine weeks of the year.

Mr Justice Hargun added: “In addition to the loss of the Front Street court, we understand that it is proposed to totally renovate Sessions House, as was the case with the Senate building.

“The proposal is that the criminal division will be asked to vacate this court sometime this year. However, to date no suitable space has been found.”

Mr Justice Hargun was speaking as the legal profession marked the start of the new legal year in Supreme Court 1.

The Chief Justice added that in an effort to prevent delays between conviction and sentencing, the Supreme Court will only order reports in cases of young, first-time offenders and in cases where mental health had to be assessed.

Senior magistrate Juan Wolffe highlighted the efforts taken to help those who come before Magistrates’ Court to prevent them from falling into a cycle of incarceration and criminality.

He said that the Drug Treatment Court and Mental Health Court had both helped give offenders a way to tackle their problems.

Mr Wolffe said he had started discussions to introduce a Probation Review and Re-entry Court.

The new court would work to reduce the likelihood of people released from prison going on to commit further offences.

He said: “I invite every member of this community to step inside Magistrates’ Court on any given day and witness the phenomenal work the magistrates, acting magistrates and administrative staff are doing.”

Mr Wolffe called for legal changes to allow online payments of fines, child support or debts.

He also asked that video-link evidence equipment should be bought so witnesses in sex offence cases would not have to face the people accused of assaulting them.

Larry Mussenden, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said other technology could be used to improve the court system.

He highlighted digital disclosure of documents among the Bermuda Police Service, the Department of Public Prosecutions and defence lawyers involved in the case.