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Outgoing Chief Justice: We do not need a gun court

Chief Justice Richard Ground says he is not in favour of introducing a “gun court” to Bermuda.

National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief said last year that Bermuda could introduce a court presided over by a panel of judges because he feels jurors are appearing to show bias in some cases.

The Minister said he backed the idea of a gun court for “gang and gun matters” in order to to take bias and potential intimidation out of the equation.

Jamaica set up such a court to tackle rising crime in the 1970s. It is empowered to sit with a judge alone, but no jury, and is closed to the public and the press.

All gun crimes go to that court except murder and treason, which go to a jury.

However, in an interview with

The Royal Gazette marking his retirement after eight years as Chief Justice, Mr Justice Ground rejected the idea for Bermuda, despite the increase in gun crime.

“They introduced a gun court in Jamaica some years ago and it didn’t stop the tide of gun crime there and I don’t like secret courts and Star Chambers,” he commented.

The Star Chamber was a secret court held in medieval England. The term has since been used as a general label for secretive legal proceedings.

The Chief Justice said instead of banning the press and public as in Jamaica’s gun court, he would prefer to see restrictions placed on the media, where appropriate, to protect witnesses who feel afraid.

“If we had very limited reporting restrictions, the press would still be there. The press is the representative of the public to make sure that everybody is playing straight. I don’t like ‘behind closed doors’ stuff,” he said.

“At the moment, I think Bermuda’s juries do well. I respect them and they are such an integral part of our way of doing justice in serious cases that for the moment I would be sorry to lose them.

“But I think we should keep that under review. There may come a time where the public good would call for it.”

Reporting restrictions have been imposed by judges in recent gun and gang trials, most notably in the case of Derek Spalding, who shot national team footballer Shaki Crockwell dead. Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves banned the media from naming six prosecution witnesses, including the nurse who attended the murder scene and verified that the victim was dead.

The move prompted defence lawyer Mark Pettingill to comment that “people have to have the courage of their convictions and be prepared to put their names to things”.

However, Detective Inspector Michael Redfern, who led the murder investigation, said he felt the requests were worthwhile in order to persuade witnesses to testify.

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Carrington Mahoney stated publicly last year that he would like the media to refrain from printing the names of witnesses in gun cases because they suffer “genuine fear”.

Asked about such restrictions, the Chief Justice said he backs them if “there is a real reason” for them being imposed, but he is only in favour of “a very modest limit on the press right to report in appropriate cases where it’s justified”.

He explained: “Gun and gang crime is so serious we have to give up some of our own liberties and rights to combat it, but we must not go over the top with it and must be very careful.”

Mr Justice Ground, who is handing over his job to Puisne Judge Ian Kawaley, said he has enjoyed his time at the helm despite the challenges thrown at him by the escalation in gun and gang crime.

He noted that with the efforts of prosecutors, judges and defence lawyers alike, the number of pending criminal trials has been slashed from 79 to just 17 during the past eight years.

“He added that new technology allowing court proceedings to be recorded instead of having to be noted by hand, and new legislation such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, has helped speed up proceedings too.

“What I would like to convey is what a very happy and fruitful time the last eight years have been personally.

“I have really enjoyed being Chief Justice and I feel we have made solid steps forward in the administration of justice,” he said.

Chief Justice Richard Ground (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 28, 2012 at 9:54 am (Updated March 28, 2012 at 9:54 am)

Outgoing Chief Justice: We do not need a gun court

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