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Supreme Court celebrates 400 years

Bermuda's Supreme Court yesterday celebrated its 400th anniversary with a special sitting.

But while Chief Justice Ian Kawaley said the justice system had made great strides during its long history, he warned that more work was needed to ensure Bermuda was not left lagging behind other jurisdictions.

In particular, he noted a lack of fiscal autonomy found in other regions and the physical state of the court facilities, which he said were no longer fit for purpose.

He said the courts still shared offices with Parliament and other government departments, and at least one facility was “unhealthy and unsafe”.

However he pledged to fight to make sure the island didn't fall further behind sister jurisdictions.

Mr Justice Kawaley also said the island was still grappling with the lingering effects of slavery and segregation in the courts, saying that the descendants of slaves appeared before the criminal courts in disproportionate numbers.

And he praised the Bermuda Bar, saying that many of the advancements in Bermuda's legal system came as a result of lawyers bringing significant cases to the courts.

Responding later in the ceremony Trevor Moniz, the Attorney-General, said that the government was doing what it could to turn the economy around and had made numerous steps to keep the island's legal system up to date.

“We recognise that these courts work in very difficult circumstances,” he said.

“The Cabinet Office has been closed because of mould and those sorts of things. Those are the circumstances in which Cabinet have been working.”

Mr Moniz added that the Government was working to address the issue of crime, noting that the number of people incarcerated on the island has fallen in recent years.

Also addressing the court during the special sitting was Donald Lemons, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, who noted the shared legal history of the island and the state. He said anniversaries were important as they gave us an opportunity to look back on the lessons learnt, and those lessons that have been forgotten.

Meanwhile Sir Dennis Byron, the president of the Caribbean Court of Justice, noted the steady evolution of the law and human rights internationally, and Lord David Pannick noted that much like Bermuda, Britain was still struggling to resolve issues stemming from historical injustice and discrimination.

Sir Scott Baker, president of the Court of Appeal, noted that while Bermuda law was birthed from British law, it had over the years adopted elements from the Caribbean, Australia and Canada.

Celebration of 400 Years of Supreme Court. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published June 16, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 16, 2016 at 7:54 am)

Supreme Court celebrates 400 years

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