Sen. The Hon. John K.F. Delaney, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, spoke to the Justices of Appeal, the Registrar and staff of the Court of Appeal on the occasion of the Opening of the Legal Year yesterday.

The Court of Appeal is part of The Judicature, the third arm of the Government, along with the Supreme Court and the Privy Council. It functions as an independent institution and is recognised as such in Article 98 (1) and (2) of the Constitution. Minister Delaney was bringing greetings on behalf of the Executive Branch of Government and the Chambers of the Attorney General, at this special sitting of the Court at the beginning of the Legal Year.

The Attorney General spoke to the very able composition of jurists. Although not constitutionally the final court of this jurisdiction, as a practical matter, the Court of Appeal is the last appellate court to which most litigants in The Bahamas avail themselves. “So therefore, the quality of its jurists is of serious import to this nation,” he said.

Administration of Justice

He took the opportunity to highlight initiatives of the Bahamas Government in support of the administration of justice, noting the planned redoubling of efforts in the coming year. Specifically:

1. In the Office of the Attorney General, much work will be done to re-order and realign resources to strengthen and enhance the efficiency and output of the prosecutorial side and civil litigation side of Chambers.

2. Law reform initiatives will continue and be expanded. The Law Reform & Revision Commission and the Legislative Drafting Department are busy with several pieces of intended legislation; viz. Revisions to the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Regulations for the new Planning Bill recently introduced in Parliament. (He noted that with the Court’s involvement and direction, the Court of Appeal Amendment Rules were amongst the legislation to be pursued)

3. In terms of physical plant, the Government will move full steam ahead with a wholesale renovation and expansion of the Supreme Court facilities in the Bank Lane/Parliament Square area. Existing buildings will be gutted, remodele and, in some cases, expanded, and built out as modern state-of-the-art courts with technology relevant to the times.

4. By mid-year the modern Magisterial Court Complex at South & Nassau Streets is expected to be completed, providing for the consolidation in one location of the Magistrates Courts of New Providence, with the exception of the Coroners Court.

On this special occasion of the Legal Year opening, Sen. Delaney said it was fitting to acknowledge the many accomplishments of the President of the Court of Appeal, the Rt. Hon. Dame Joan Sawyer, who has announced her retirement later this year. *“Your judgments have contributed meaningfully to the jurisprudence of this jurisdiction and to the common law tradition that we share with other peoples. Your leadership and management of the operations of this Honourable Court of Appeal have done much for its
development as a resident Court of Appeal of distinction.”*

Specifically addressing the efficient and professional management of the Court, he noted:-

* The absence of a backlog in this court, in part, speaks to the manner in which its business is dispatched;

* The annual reporting speaks to a transparency that is an example for public institutions anywhere; and

* The harnessing and leveraging of the tools of this digital age, i.e. the utilization of state-of-the-art information technology, has resulted in a modern electronic environment that would hold its own with the most modern of courts in the developed world.

On the last, documents are scanned upon filing and immediately available electronically on the desktops of all the Court’s Justices; an electronic archival system makes readily available to the Court past judgments from as far back as 1962; and a well maintained website serves the legal profession, litigants, and the public with information. Also noted was the remote access for Justices of Appeal, which provides access to justices while at
home or abroad; and a 2010 project to investigate the possibility of on-line filing of court documents and payment of relevant court fees.

In conclusion, the Attorney General extended warmest wishes to the President and all Justices of Appeal, the Registrar and staff for a Happy & successful New Year.

Following the announcement of Dame Joan of her retirement, the Bahamas Bar Association praised the Court of Appeal President for bringing structural and organisational improvements to the court. BBA Vice President, Cathleen Hassan said, *”Dame Joan’s retirement from the bench marks a milestone for the achievement and the level to which the Court of Appeal has reached in The Bahamas. She is a jurist of the highest order, eminently qualified to sit on any high court or higher court than the court of appeal. The directness of her rulings speak for themselves and are always very clear.”*

Dame Joan, scheduled to retire on November 26, 2010, is the first woman to serve as Chief Justice and President of the Bahamas Court of Appeal.