The Hon. Carl Bethel
Attorney General & Minister of Justice
Offshore financial centres wishing to be successful in the long term must not only have stringent regulations in place to enhance and protect their reputation, but must also cooperate with other jurisdictions. The Bahamas Government has gone on record with its intention of attaining and maintaining *”the very highest levels of conduct as a clean jurisdiction, complying with the highest standards to prevent the abuse of its financial system by money launderers and criminal elements”*.
The Government has indicated its determination to address the concerns of the international community and to bring The Bahamas in line with international best practices. It has committed to recommendations coming out of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), and Financial Action Task Force (FATF), in relation to simplifying and making more efficient The Bahamas’ cooperation with foreign jurisdictions in legal proceedings.
In his contribution to the House of Assembly debate on the 2001/2002 Budget, the Hon. Carl Bethel, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, addressed the issue of The Bahamas’ obligations to cooperate with international requests for judicial assistance. In response to indications that mechanisms in place for international cooperation needed to be reviewed, included in the legislative restructuring taking place in 2000 were the Evidence (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act and the Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) Act. The former regulates cooperation by Bahamian courts in civil matters while the latter regulates such cooperation in criminal matters.
The Attorney General said, *”It was necessary to accept the concept that The Bahamas, as a part of the global community, owed a duty to the world not to allow its financial services system to be used as a convenient tool for money launderers. We have made the appropriate changes and are now fully able to comply with our obligations.”*
An International Legal Cooperation Unit has been created within the Office of the Attorney General. The Unit is staffed with attorneys specialised in the preparation and presentation in court of all international requests for judicial assistance, freezing and forfeiture of the proceeds of crime.
The Office of Attorney General also has portfolio responsibility for the Legal Department, the Department of Public Prosecutors, the Judicial Department, Court of Appeal and Magistrates’ Courts, and extradition matters. Additionally, the Office oversees the Office of the Registrar-General, and the Financial Intelligence Unit.
At the present time, The Bahamas provides services relating to legal assistance as a matter of state, at no cost to the requesting state. The Bahamas is in the process of negotiating Asset Sharing Agreements with several countries to share wealth confiscated under legal forfeiture provisions.
The Bahamas currently has Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) with the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Consideration is being given to additional Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties in criminal matters with several other countries.
The Office of the Attorney General is working with the judiciary to implement The Bahamas Integrated Justice Information System (BIJIS), a connected computer system linking all the Supreme Court rooms, judges’ chambers and the Supreme Court Registry in a Local Area Network (LAN). It is envisioned that this system will allow for better case management, trial preparation, and flows of information among and between the judiciary and the court administration.