Increase in debt collection, child support cases tied to recession report
More than $1m owed to courts in uncollected fines
SEVEN THOUSAND WARRANTS AND A $1 MILLION IN FINES OUTSTANDING
There are more than 7,500 unfulfilled warrants for arrest outstanding at Magistrates Court, plus more than a million dollars in uncollected fines, a report has revealed.
As of December 7, 2012, there were 7,107 apprehension warrants, which are issued when someone has failed to show up for a court appearance.
There were also 402 committal warrants for unpaid criminal and traffic fines. The total amount attached to the fines is $1,162,204.10, according to Fridays report, which was the first ever annual report on the justice system.
In August 2011, Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner blamed the police for the problem when he did an interview with the Bermuda Sun newspaper.
The police simply havent got the manpower, the means, the time, the priority.
Its not that [the warrants] arent important but its the numbers — its impossible for the police to do that as instructed, he was quoted as saying.
Its not that they dont try but you would need a separate police force. If we were to arrest everybody — if it were possible — we would have to hire the National Stadium to put them in and keep court up there.
Warrants do not expire with time, and Mr Warner noted that wanted persons are often picked up when they are stopped for other matters such as running a stop light or a police search.
However, he said that when people are brought to court for cases dating back many years, invariably, I dismiss them because its not practical or fair.
SENIOR MAGISTRATES HOPES FOR THE FUTURE
Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner set out his aspirations for the lower courts in a speech marking the start of the judicial year on Friday.
Mr Warner said he would like to see a separate Court Services department to help the busy court serve the public better.
He called for investment in human, physical and technological resources, and for the Justice for Families report — which called for an overhaul of the Family Court — to be implemented as soon as possible.
Mr Warner went on to describe himself and his fellow Magistrates as the poor cousins of the courts, compared to Supreme Court judges.
He said they do not enjoy the job security, pay and pensions that the judges receive, despite the important work they do.
At a ceremony at Supreme Court on Friday to mark the new judicial year — which was attended by the Chief Justice, Governor and Attorney General — Mr Warner urged: Close this disparity between the judges of the Supreme Court and the judges of the Magistrates Court.
Mr Warner said he hoped that his invitation to the ceremony, which was also attended by Bermudas Supreme Court judges was an indication that we are being brought in from the cold.
Mr Warner became a Magistrate in 2000 and was promoted in 2001 to the post of Senior Magistrate.
He was seconded to the Supreme Court for three years from 2002 onwards as an Assistant Justice before returning to the post of Senior Magistrate.
The need for extra security in Bermudas courts is under review, according to a report on the justice system published on Friday.
Chief Justice Ian Kawaley criticised the existing Supreme Court criminal trial facilities as disgracefully inadequate in his introduction to the report, saying the outdated and insecure courtrooms put staff and the integrity of the trial process at risk.
Supreme Court trials are held in Supreme Court One, housed in the 196-year-old Sessions House, and Supreme Court Three, in the 217-year-old Custom House. Commercial cases are heard in the Government Administration Building.
Magistrates Court trials take place in the two-year-old Dame Lois Browne-Evans building described as light years away from the Supreme Court facilities in the report.
The Chief Justice wrote: Security is vital in our courts as we come face to face with increase in violent crime and gang retaliation. With the additional space cleaning costs have also increased.
We continue to hope that one day in the near future, all our Supreme Courts and administrative offices may be housed in one purpose-built facility, thereby eradicating the obvious difficulties of running a Supreme Court in three separate locations.
He added: We continue to monitor the level of security threat and cooperate fully with Police and Corrections in respect of individual trials where appropriate. Should the increase of multi-defendant and factional cases continue, we will have to consider more permanent measures of protection for our Supreme Courts.
The increasing number of violent high risk individuals being brought before our Courts for gun and weapon offences, coupled with the presence of friends and family members, along with those of their victims, presents a potentially unsafe [environment] for staff, Judges, Magistrates and the public at large.
The Chief Justice added: We continue to review the need for extra security devices including cameras and additional metal detectors and in view of recent crime, we have taken extra measures where necessary and installed temporary metal detectors provided by private security on a case-by-case basis.
We continue to monitor our needs to protect our courts and the people and public who use them.
In his speech at a ceremony marking the publication of the report and the start of the new court year, Attorney General Mark Pettingill said both he and Minister of Public Works Trevor Moniz have paid attention to the concerns.
The heavy workload experienced by Bermudas courts was outlined in a report on the justice system, published on Friday to mark the start of the new legal year.
In the Magistrates Court, 10,325 cases were heard last year — a 20 percent increase on the year before.
This was attributed to enforcement activities associated with collection efforts on outstanding judgments in the section about Magistrates Court penned by Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner.
Mr Warner also noted the problems the recession has caused.
Debt collection agencies continued their efforts in 2012 to recover outstanding debts as the recession further tightened its grip on the community, he wrote. The volumes of cases being filed by these agencies in the first quarter of the year began to totally dominate access to the Civil Court calendar and inhibit access to justice for one-to-one cases being filed by private citizens.
Many of these judgment creditors themselves were in dire financial predicaments and required their matters to be brought before the Magistrate as quickly as possible.
The Civil Court staff along with the Magistrate made the decision that one-to-one cases had to be scheduled within 30 days of the filing date.
As a result, the Magistrate was often faced with hearing as many as 150 cases in a single court session.
The Civil Court Magistrate continues to work along with the debt collection agencies and judgment debtors, many of whom have found themselves before the court for the non-payment of bills for the first time.
Mr Warner said the recession has also had an impact on the Family Court.
The total amount collected this year for child support payments is $5,487,566.
This is a decrease of 11 percent over the previous year and once again can be tied to the recession as more and more parents report to the court of their loss of income due to unemployment, he said.
He said that a strategy is in place regarding the Family Courts collection of unpaid child maintenance.
He added that there has been improved administrative efficiency in cases under review, proactive reviews of maintenance account balances and an expanded number of cases placed before the courts.
Monthly review dates have been implemented in each Family Court and the defaulters have been encouraged to propose a payment schedule prior to the hearing date.
The direct result has been improved public perception of the Family Court, enhanced relations within the affected families, restored dignity to the defaulter and increased arrears sums collected in 2012, wrote Mr Warner.
It is important to note that in 2012, the Family Court seldom enforced the collection of arrears monies by exercising its power under the Children Act to imprison the non-paying parent.
The Family Court has observed that an such approach is consistent with promoting the welfare of the child and has established buy-in from fathers to work toward satisfying the arrears of maintenance balance, as well as encouraged fathers to rekindle relationships with their children.
Unfortunately, it must be reported that such an approach seems to aggrieve mothers who seek punishment in the form of imprisonment, of previously non-paying fathers.
When it comes to the traffic section of the Magistrates Court, 5,761 new traffic matters and 2,740 parking matters were filed with the court — a 41 percent decrease on the previous years number of traffic matters.
Mr Warner said: The number of parking cases filed also was significantly reduced by an astounding 59 percent, which can probably be attributed to the traffic wardens still manually writing parking tickets, with limited police resources available to input them into the courts system.
He said this will remain the case until full implementation of a new computer system to manage justice issues, leaving the government to continue to lose much needed revenue.
The annual report also gave new statistics for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal heard 35 matters in the past year 15 of which were criminal cases. That was three less than the year before.
In the Supreme Court, 42 criminal cases were dealt with, involving 58 defendants which is 13 cases less than the year before.
When it comes to civil matters, 430 of them were filed at Supreme Court, ranging from Commercial Court cases to bankruptcy matters and requests for judicial reviews.
There were ten percent fewer civil matters than the year before.
The statistics for matrimonial cases show an 8.2 percent decrease in the number of divorces filed, compared to 2011. A total of 190 divorce petitions were filed during the last legal year.
The new report on the justice system can be viewed at: http://www.gov.bm/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=204&&PageID=226622&mode=2&in_hi_userid=2&cached=true
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