Advocacy group claims Court of Appeals recordings were made

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A pressure group fighting to obtain access to recordings of court proceedings has questioned official claims that the sessions were never taped.

Last month the Civil Justice Advocacy Group (CJAG) filed a criminal complaint against Court of Appeal president Justice Edward Zacca and court registrar Charlene Scott, claiming that Appeal Court recordings were deliberately withheld from appellants and possibly destroyed. The group compiled a chronology of cases in which litigants were given contradicting information from officials about the availability of recordings of hearings that took place between February 2011 to November 2012 — when, after a public protest, Justice Zacca finally agreed that all future hearings would be recorded and made available.

Lawyers claiming to represent the Bermuda Judiciary, refuted those allegations, describing them as “defamatory, frivolous, vexatious and entirely without foundation”.

In a letter to this newspaper, attorney Delroy Duncan insisted that there was “no legal requirement for electronic records of court hearings to be made and retained under Bermuda law”.

Mr Duncan added: “No recordings were made during the period in question and none were destroyed.”

But CJAG has now highlighted legislation which it claims makes it mandatory for hearings to be recorded.

And it also claims there is “incontrovertible evidence that recordings were indeed made”.

According to a spokesman for the group, the Supreme Court Act of 1905 states that the court registrar “shall keep a record of all proceedings of the court”.

The spokesman listed a number of other laws outlining the need for recordings to be made and kept, and quoted from a 2009 Request for Proposal from the Bermuda Judiciary which states: “All courtrooms in Bermuda make use of the Court Smart Digital recording system. This system is critical to the function of the courts and is the official record of the courts.”

The spokesman said: “By the legislative operation of at least four Acts of Parliament, the Registrar has a legal duty to keep and retain a record of the proceedings held in the courts.

“And since at least 2004, confirmed by their own report, the official record of the proceedings has been an electronic record.

“The Bermuda taxpayer has paid for the installation of the Court Smart System so that proceedings can be accurately and transparently recorded in the interests of justice.”

CJAG also took aim at suggestions that no recordings were made between February 2011 and November, 2012.

“There exists incontrovertible evidence that recordings were indeed made during the period in question,” the spokesman said.

“The Ministry of Legal Affairs has confirmed, in an official report, that during the period of 2011-2012, ‘100 percent of all cases’ were ‘captured in the Court Smart System’.

“The appropriate method by which to determine whether these recordings still exist or have been destroyed is by way of a criminal investigation into the evidence. Allegations are only defamatory if they are not true. Thankfully we live in a democracy where no official, no matter how senior they may be, is above the law nor should be seen to be above the law.”

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Published Feb 6, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 5, 2014 at 11:08 pm)

Advocacy group claims Court of Appeals recordings were made

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