Working Together to Strengthen the Rule of Law in the Bahamas

In April 2013, The Bahamas’ Attorney-General requested a grant to pilot methods to reduce the lengthy turnaround times on criminal cases. Ensuring the funding for this technical cooperation was challenging. Among the IDB’s trust funds, The Bahamas is not an “A” candidate to invest in. However, once in execution, we anchored the outcome of this technical cooperation’s pilot case as a precursor or catalyst of a Citizen Security and Justice Programme for The Bahamas.

Problem Identification: with a population of 385,000, The Bahamas has a high rate of violent crime as reflected by the 149 homicides reported by the Royal Bahamas Police Force in 2015.  By comparison, London, which has a population of 8.3 million, reported around 100 homicides during 2014. The number of sexual assaults and armed robberies are also disproportionately high in The Bahamas. Although the police are very successful in catching criminals, the justice system cannot keep up with these numbers despite opening four new Supreme Courts[1]. A lack of sufficiently experienced lawyers in the Department of Public Prosecutions, the absence of a functioning public defenders organization, the inability to convene juries regularly, and the unreliability of court scheduling have all played a part in the growing backlog of criminal cases. Although many factors contribute to rising crime rates, the inefficiencies of the criminal justice system exacerbates crime, i.e. delays in bringing defendants to trial and the waning public confidence in the justice system demonstrated by reluctance to carry their civic duties as jurors or witnesses.

IDB Experts as Facilitators: Given this dilemma the IDB grant operation is responding with an integrated approach:  for the first time, key stakeholders in the criminal justice system are engaging in meaningful communications using the IDB team of consultants as facilitators. The work has thereby helped to bridge the gaps among prosecutors, police officers, defense counsel, and the judiciary on various legal issues such as case management and witness care.

Problem Solving: Through a method of coalition building and stakeholder engagement, expert recommendations, improved communication and intense in-person training, this technical cooperation has helped the beneficiaries, not just to treat the symptoms, but more importantly, to effectively address the cause. Ultimately, by eliminating the growing backlog and demonstrating a better functioning criminal justice system, The Bahamas will benefit from an improved international reputation. This will help to create conditions for attracting more foreign investments and will contribute to a secure environment for Bahamians, as well as for tourists who visit regularly (60 percent of GDP is related to the tourism sector).  This work is triggered by the implementation of the Integrated Justice System software that will assist justice system stakeholders in managing scheduling and access to current information on all cases.  Moreover, through training by IDB experts, the Court Reporting Unit will work to optimize the production of new transcripts.

New Communication: This technical cooperation will pilot a new approach in advancing the justice system through strategic communications focusing on the results to be achieved using traditional and new media. For example, Facebook—the most efficient channel of communications in this island country—should be integrated in the communications strategy.  It will be critical to encourage greater public participation as witnesses and jurors, educate the public about how their justice system operates and alerting defendants (who accept responsibility for their offences) to the benefits of pleading guilty rather than further contributing to the backlog by insisting on a trial. Using a new simplified language, to break down the complexity of issues should also contribute to setting the benchmarks and route for improving a challenging situation that is today marked by obstacles such as unavailability of transcripts, uncoordinated scheduling, and inadequate preparation of evidence.

By addressing these obstacles, The Bahamas can eventually develop a more efficient, fair, and integrated criminal justice system and solve issues such as providing new courts to hear more cases; setting up new technology for greater efficiency; and coordination and training for the judiciary, prosecutors, and Court Reporting Unit.

Partnership with the IDB:  Whereas the Bahamian context is unique, the challenges faced by criminal justice system stakeholders are not. Therefore, partnering with the IDB and its experts is an important step that needs to be communicated to the public. Because the government cannot do this alone, it will need the help of its citizens—citizens who dream of their Bahamas as a safer place—to share in the work and perform their civic duties as witnesses and jurors. The system cannot improve without their participation.

Beyond generating knowledge for the Office of the Attorney-General, the work of this technical cooperation can become a model for how we engage with similar issues in the region and beyond. The top-notch consultants’ team, led by The Honorable Dame Linda Dobbs DBE has done excellent work, advising the Office of the Attorney-General on measures to reduce the backlog of pending legal cases and to assist in implementing reforms.

[1] The highest court in The Bahamas is the Court of Appeals.

Follow us on Twitter: @IDB_CarDevTrend

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

Leave a reply

Post your comment
Enter your name
Your e-mail address

Story Page