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Justice Group ‘vindicated’ after ruling

Former litigants who campaigned for Bermuda’s Court of Appeal to release recordings of its hearings have welcomed a Privy Council ruling on the issue.

The judgment, concerning a case from Mauritius, considered whether individuals convicted of crimes had the right to copies of the digital recordings of their trials when deciding whether to appeal.

The five law lords in London concluded that digital recordings, not transcripts or judge’s notes, were the “primary record” of the court and should be made available, for a fee, to those involved in proceedings: a position at odds with that taken by various government officials and others in Bermuda.

The Civil Justice Advocacy Group told The Royal Gazette it felt vindicated by the ruling but believed it raised serious questions about why litigants in Bermuda were “denied access to a court recording system paid for by the public purse”.

It said in a statement: “Why were we given the runaround on such a basic issue? Why were we told that a system that was in use, and regularly transcribed for appeals, was not the official record?”

Members of CJAG, including former civil servant LeYoni Junos and businessman Dilton Robinson, teamed up more than five years ago after struggling to obtain official recordings of civil cases they were involved in at the Court of Appeal.

The group was told by various officials — including the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Registrar of the Supreme Court — that the judge’s notes were the official record of court proceedings.

A civil rights organisation, the Centre for Justice, also held that view and the Deputy Governor of the day said it was “standard procedure not only in Bermuda but in courts in the UK” to deny access to court recordings.

In 2014, CJAG lodged a criminal complaint alleging that Court of Appeal president Justice Edward Zacca and Charlene Scott, the court registrar, had committed offences by not making recordings available.

The group compiled a list of cases in which it claimed litigants were given contradicting information from officials about the availability of recordings of hearings between February 2011 to November 2012 — when, after a public protest, Mr Justice Zacca finally agreed that all future hearings would be recorded and made available.

Prosecutors declined to press charges, with police stating: “There is no legislation in Bermuda that requires the court to make an audio recording of its proceedings. The fact that the court has such a system does not mean it is required by law to do so.”

The CJAG said the recent ruling, in the matter of Sumodhee (and others) versus the State of Mauritius, made clear that if a court recording system was in use, then the audio recording was the primary record of the proceedings.

The law lords said: “For a Supreme Court trial, the modern transcript is prepared from the digital recording, not from a shorthand note. Moreover ... it is the digital recording which is the primary record ...”

The CJAG said in its statement: “We feel vindicated by this recent ruling of the Privy Council and will continue to expose injustice, and to improve access to justice, in the Bermuda judiciary.”

• To access the full Civil Justice Advocacy Group press release and the Privy Council ruling, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”.