The Evidence (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act, 2000 allows for the Supreme Court of The Bahamas to provide assistance to Courts in other jurisdictions relating to civil and criminal proceedings instituted in foreign courts. The Act limits testimony of witnesses to the provision of evidence which is obtainable in a Bahamian Court — that is, a witness is not compelled to give evidence which he is not compelled to give under Bahamian law.

The passage of the Act in June, 2000 related to The Bahamas’ response to concerns raised by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), among others, about the cumbersome process of requesting and receiving assistance from The Bahamas under the Foreign Tribunals Evidence Act, 1856.

The Bill to Amend the Evidence (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act 2000, as presented to the House and Senate during August came as a result of the blacklisting of The Bahamas by the FATF and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The intent of the Amending Bill was to bring The Bahamas in line with other financial centres and modern states in relation to the rendering of assistance in matters before Courts and/or under investigation in other jurisdictions.

The Bill provides for assistance to be rendered by The Bahamas Courts only for purposes of civil proceedings already instituted before the requesting Court or where the institution of proceedings before that Court is contemplated and for which investigations have commenced. That is, assistance under the Amendment can only be provided if Court Action is contemplated and investigations have commenced prior to the request being made for assistance.

Passage of the amending bill is viewed by the government as being in fulfillment of its international obligations, particularly those freely entered into with the signing and ratification of the 1988 United Nations Convention Against the Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

A new Criminal Justice Assistance (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Bill is expected to be presented to Parliament, specifically setting out standards and conditions to be met for assistance in criminal matters. The new bill will provide a clear distinction between purely criminal matters and criminal fiscal crimes.

Although the Act and Amendment will change and simplify procedures to be followed by requesting states, and enhance efficiency and speed in the consideration of requests for assistance, the final determination as to whether assistance can or will be granted remains as it has been from time immemorial — a decision of the Supreme Court of The Bahamas.