Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Senator the Hon. Carl W. Bethel stated that in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Court of Appeal introduced remote hearings by the Zoom digital platform to dispose of criminal and civil cases, and has drafted a Practice Direction which sets out how digital hearings would occur. The court’s website was also upgraded to allow access to audio transcripts.
“Also, in response to the COVID-19 shutdowns, the Court of Appeal (Amendment) Rules, 2020 were executed to allow the court to conduct video conference hearings,” the Attorney General said in his remarks at the ceremony to mark the beginning of the 2021 Legal Year, January 13, 2021 in Rawson Square.
(Ceremonies were modified in accordance with COVID- 19 Pandemic protocols.) The Attorney General said further, the existing case database (CAIS) was upgraded to allow for instantaneous electronic uploading of all court documents and skeleton submissions.
Supreme Court and Magistrate’s Courts
He explained that the Office of the Judiciary which is comprised of the Supreme Court and Magistrate’s Courts have also embraced the use of technology for court hearings.
The Attorney General also noted that in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Citizens Security and Justice Programme, a new Integrated Case Management System will be introduced, which will provide, among other things:
(i) an electronic filing feature via a secure web portal for authorized users;
(ii) E- notifications and messaging functionality;
(iii) integrated digital recording and transcript software that will accelerate the pace of transcript production;
(iv) allow court officers to manage all aspects in the life cycle of a case via an electronic scheduling feature.
He said, “Once implemented the Integrated Case Management System (ICMS) will move the Judiciary substantially closer to a paperless court system. On 16 th December 2020, a contract was signed to introduce the ICMS for the judicial sector.” The Minister Bethel stated that a Court Services Bill has been drafted and Tabled in Parliament.
“This Bill, once enacted, will enhance the independence of the Judiciary by giving enhanced budgetary, functional and financial autonomy to the Office of the Judiciary.
“Further, over time all staff who are willing will be migrated from the public service; and placed under the direct control of the judiciary for all purposes related to hiring, promotion and dis-engagement. This will enhance the capacity of the judiciary to manage its staffing, and to promote or discipline employees, without the intervention or delays now being experienced.”
He explained that on 22nd December, 2020 a contract was signed for the Digitization Project for the Courts and also the E Payment system and payment of management solution for the Family Court in the Magistrate’s Court. The Attorney General said the E payment system in the Family Court of the Magistrate’s Court is intended to facilitate easier, faster and more accessible payments to the recipients.
Persons will be able to make payments online using debit and credit cards both in New Providence
and in the Family Islands, thus eliminating the need to attend at the Magistrate Court to stand in line to make payments.