The Bahamas Industrial Tribunal Pioneers New Services for Bahamas’ First Smart Court

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced courts and many public institutions to close their doors and restrict in-person proceedings. In the midst of this unprecedented disruption, the Bahamas Industrial Tribunal has seized the opportunity to incorporate innovative technology, upgrade its processes and facilities, and continue its operations. Over the past 12 months, the Tribunal has introduced several pioneering new services. On 22 July 2019, the Tribunal implemented an electronic case management system. Then on 12 August 2019, the Bahamas Industrial Tribunal became the first court in the country to introduce electronic filing and notarization.

Viewing the Smart Court services of the Tribunal, September 3, 2020 the Hon. Carl Bethel, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, and the Hon. Mr. Justice Brian Moree, Chief Justice of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, paid a visit to the Industrial Tribunal’s offices downtown, where they were given a tour by President of the Tribunal Mrs. Indira Demeritte-Francis. Attorney General Carl Bethel stated: “The services the Tribunal has introduced over the past year have been nothing short of groundbreaking.

The Tribunal plays an essential role in the Bahamian labor landscape. It must be available to everyone who needs them, when they need them. President Francis and the staff at the Tribunal have taken commendable steps to ensure that the services of the
Tribunal is available to all. “I am also pleased to see the fruits of the Tribunal’s collaboration with APEX, a unique Caribbean agency with technology designed specifically for the needs of the Caribbean. The Bahamas was one of the first countries to sign-on to APEX when it was formed in 2017. It is gratifying to see Tribunal benefit from the technology, services and expertise from APEX that we need now to accelerate the digital transformation of our courts.”

The introduction of the Industrial Tribunal’s Smart Courts, together with the e-filing and electronic case management systems from APEX allowed the Tribunal to minimize in-person interactions and do its part to help slow the spread of the pandemic. It’s the first time in the Tribunal’s history that its hearings have been held virtually. President of the Tribunal, Mrs. Francis said: “As it has been in every sector, the impact of COVID-19 has been a challenge for our Tribunal.

Thankfully, the Industrial Tribunal’s Smart Court initiative was conceived well before the pandemic, as part of our 2015 strategic plan to strengthen the institution and improve the quality of services offered to citizens. “Having already eliminated our case-backlog, digitized our case records and implemented electronic filing, COVID-19 restrictions forced the Tribunal to accelerate plans to introduce smart courtrooms and electronic hearings. The Tribunal’s hearings now take place through the video conferencing platform Zoom and will be live-streamed on the Tribunal’s website. Now that we have done it, we cannot go back,” she added. The e-filing, electronic case management, automated court transcripts and smart courtrooms implemented by the Tribunal are part of larger effort with APEX, the Caribbean Agency for justice solutions. The Tribunal has replaced outdated processes with modern, integrated court management systems.

“One of our most urgent priorities now is to ensure that the Tribunal rules are amended to cater to the realities of our present circumstances. Meanwhile, the Tribunal intends to continue its work on deploying technology solutions, strengthening internal controls and investing in staff development and capacity building,” stated President Francis. She shared that the Industrial Tribunal would not have been able to implement the Smart Court initiative in the timeframe it did without the dedicated support and technology provided by APEX, the Caribbean Agency for justice solutions.

“APEX’s Curia court management technology, regional insights and hands-on service approach have been invaluable throughout the process. The court is also extremely grateful for the support we have received from the Financial Secretary and his team at the Ministry of Finance. They bought into our vision and provided the financial support we needed to realize it,” said Francis. “The investments to upgrade the courtroom facilities and introduce new levels of automation and computerization are designed to help protect our staff as well as the public, while efficiently allowing Tribunal hearings to proceed faster and safer than ever before,” she added.

To date, the Tribunal has issued practice directions for Virtual Adjudication Hearings (VAH) and has already completed a total of 34 hearings online “With the state-of-the-art equipment that is now installed in the court, I can personally attest that the process works perfectly and is convenient and safe, especially during the pandemic when having to work from home,” said Errol McKinney, Legal Advocate at E.M. & Associates. McKinney was one of the first advocates to appear before the court in a virtual hearing.
The Bahamas Industrial Tribunal is now more efficient, more equitable and more accessible.

President Francis committed to making enhancements to how the Tribunal works and how it delivers its services into the future: “The objective is to provide people-centred, technology-enabled future for the Tribunal that benefits not only the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, but our sister institutions across the
Caribbean.”

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