Tackling the backlog of criminal cases has been on the agenda of successive governments, however the ill-preparedness of prosecutors charged with the duty of bringing matters to trial have contributed to more than 450 cases currently pending in the Supreme Court, a judge told The Nassau Guardian earlier this week. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the judge said that for the most part, prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General request adjournments, despite assertions from persons in the political arena that defense lawyers shoulder most of the blame for delays in bringing cases to trial. Just this week the prosecution requested that two murder cases be struck off the court’s calendar because they were not ready to proceed.
This is the second time that prosecutors have failed to start the trial against David Cooper Cunningham, Marvin Smith and Dennis Peterson, who are accused of murdering Marvin Lightbourne in 2007.
The murder case of Tevari Dorsett, which was scheduled as a back-up to the Cooper-Cunningham case, also did not get off the ground.
Dorsett is accused of the revenge killing of Hosea Lightbourne in 2006. His case was fast-tracked to the Supreme Court in 2007. When he appeared before now retired Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Albury for his arraignment, she said, “I urge the Crown in the circumstances to get its house in order and bring the matter to trial at its earliest opportunity, in view of what has been put before me.”
Recently a woman accused of attempting to run over another woman with a car on the AUTEC base in Andros was supposed to stand trial. However, prosecutors asked for an adjournment because they could not locate witnesses, although the trial date was set nine months ago. When the judge refused, prosecutors ended the case, which had been in the system for six years, by entering a nolle prosequi. The woman’s lawyer had unsuccessfully argued a constitutional motion, alleging the woman’s right to a trial within a reasonable time had been infringed at her arraignment and fixture hearing. Unlike their counterparts in private practice, public prosecutors have to interview witnesses themselves and perform clerical tasks, according to sources. Lawyers also point out that a limited number of process servers hinders prosecutions because cases cannot proceed in the absence of witnesses.
In March, a judge held a defense lawyer in contempt of court for wasting judicial time by withdrawing from a case on the day the trial was scheduled to begin.
Newly-appointed Director of Public Prosecutions Vinette Graham-Allen takes up the appointment at a time when the department is burdened with a high volume of criminal matters that need to be heard. There are just over 20 prosecutors in the Office of the Attorney General.
AG John Delaney told The Guardian in an earlier interview that the criminal case backlog was around 40,000, although Progressive Liberal Party Senator and former Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson has put that number closer to 95,000. Delaney said that the current restructuring of the Department of Prosecutions and other improvements being made in the administration of justice in The Bahamas would together have a positive effect on chipping away at the long-talked-about backlog. He admitted that it would be impossible to eliminate the backlog over the next 12 months, but said he was hopeful that there would soon be four criminal trial courts operating in New Providence at the Supreme Court level.
A recent report from Her Majesty’s Prison that was tabled in the House of Assembly confirmed that conviction rates in The Bahamas are dismally low. So far for the year there have been 55 murders. There has been no word as to when Graham-Allen would be sworn in, but a Guardian source has said it would more than likely be a private affair.
By ARTESIA DAVIS