Island needs more suitable and secure Supreme Court facilities Justice Minister
Minister of Justice Michael Scott admitted Bermuda's Supreme Court facilities are “unsuitable and inadequate” for holding jury trials.
And he said extra security may have to be implemented due to the number of gang-related cases producing an “unsafe atmosphere” in the courts.
Mr Scott told MPs during the Budget debate on the Ministry yesterday: “We have dealt with a few multi-defendant trials without incident, but are increasingly faced with a growing number and in size.
“Our current facilities to hold jury trials are unsuitable and inadequate and hopefully a plan can be developed in the medium term for a purpose built facility.”
Shadow Minister Trevor Moniz bemoaned the fact no financing for a new Supreme Court building has been allocated in the forthcoming fiscal year.
The Supreme Court is currently located on three different sites. A purpose built commercial court moved into the Government administration building on Parliament Street last summer.
Last year, Chief Justice Richard Ground commended the state-of-the-art new commercial court. However, he spoke out over the “desperate need” for new Supreme Court buildings to handle criminal trials.
Mr Justice Ground expressed concerns over security at the current antiquated facilities, which are Supreme Court One, housed in the 196-year-old Sessions House, and Supreme Court Three, in the 217-year-old Customs House.
The top judge said at that time: “There's only one entrance for the public, for the jury and for witnesses at court three. It's very difficult to secure the court.” And he pointed out that members of the jury have to make their way in and out through the public gallery.
Meanwhile, witnesses and jurors have to use the same crowded hallway to get to the courtroom as the defendants, lawyers and members of the public.
In Supreme Court One, defendants have to walk through the public gallery to get to the dock. The gallery is often packed with friends and family of the victims and accused alike, and tensions can run high.
Mr Scott told the House of Assembly yesterday: “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 building, thereby eradicating the obvious difficulties of running a Supreme Court in three locations.”
Later in the debate, Mr Moniz complained of the “unacceptable fragmentation of the Supreme Court system”.
The Shadow Minister said jury members and witnesses are often confused about which building they're supposed to be in.
“With larger multi-defendant trials, we are going to need a purpose-built facility, but there's no funding in the Budget book for those improvements,” he told the House.
Mr Scott also expressed security concerns over the court facilities, telling MPs: “Security is increasingly important as our courts come face to face with [an] increase in violent crime and gang retaliation.”
And he said: “We continue to monitor the level of security threat and co-operate 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 security for our Supreme Courts.”
He added: “In Supreme Court, we continue to review the needs 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.”
Mr Scott said security officers currently screen all persons entering the Magistrates' Court. The police provide security within the courtrooms and an outside security firm provide cover for the rest of the building.
However, Mr Scott said: “Due to 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 an unsafe atmosphere for staff, Magistrates and the public at large.”
He said the new Magistrates' Court on Court Street is in its “final stages”. Works Minister Derrick Burgess had announced that all construction would be finished on the building by December 31 2010. The original completion date was August 2010. However, the new building, which also includes a new police station has yet to open.
Mr Scott did not announce an opening date for the building yesterday, but said he was sure this would be announced by the Minister of National Security “very soon”.
Meanwhile, he said the police and judicial department will review security options available for the new police and court building.
During his speech leading the United Bermuda Party response, Mr Moniz also complained about the inability to access the Supreme Court judgment book online.
He said even as a lawyer he finds the judgment book in Front Street's Supreme Court building difficult to use.