While on island for the official opening of the 2019 Legal Year for the Northern Bahamas, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Hon. Carl Bethel, QC promised that the much needed renovations to the Garnet Levarity Justice Center will commence this week.
A contact signing ceremony took place on November 26, 2018 on the lawn of the National Insurance Building Complex for such, between the Government of The Bahamas and Noula Investments Limited. The project is to cost nearly two million dollars.
On Friday January 11, following the annual church service to signify the opening of the new legal year, Bethel informed the media that the renovations to the justice center was one of the major objectives for him and his ministry during the start of this new legal year.
He was also questioned about his overall hopes and aspirations for the 2019 legal year.
“For the legal year, we hope to improve the administration of justice. Certainly here at the Garnet Levarity Justice Center, next week construction will start to renovate the roof, and thoroughly renovate both the external and interior of the courts. It will be an investment of nearly two million dollars. As we fix the roof, it will also fix the problem that led to suggestions of infections of mold, and, hopefully will lead to improvements and enhancements to the quality of justice here in Freeport, and on the island of Grand Bahama. That is what we look forward to doing immediately here.
“We are also looking into the question of engagement of needed court marshals so that we can hire some Grand Bahamians to man the Magistrate Courts and of course the Supreme Court. We hope to host a sitting of a second Justice of The Supreme Court here in Freeport as well, during the course of the year. Of course that is a matter for the judiciary. When I say we hope to, it is because we have to try and make the building serviceable and ready to accommodate,” said the attorney general.
During his sermon Rector of The Pro-Cathedral of Christ the King Cannon Norman Lightbourne admonished those within the legal fraternity to pay particular attention to improving swift justice during this legal year.
Bethel responded to Lightbourne’s charge.
“We have been engaged in a continual process over many years, to improve the speed of justice. We are constantly reducing the backlog in old cases. The most pressing area, where we need to focus is on setting up a court specifically to deal with sexual offences. That is where the greatest and most egregious delay is.
“Unfortunately, we were exploring a source of funding, through an international agency that has an ongoing project with my office and the Ministry of National Security. At the last minute last year, they told us that they were not going to fund it because we proposed to rent the building; after we had spent nearly a year working on getting a court ready for the sexual offences matters. We are now seeking, hopefully in the mid term, to have the government allocate the money so that we, the Bahamian people, will pay for our own court.
“It was a great disappointment for us that it came so late in the day, because we confidently expected that this year, we would have had a sexual offences court up and running in Nassau. We will, in due course hopefully do it in the course of this legal year. If we can get that sexual offences court up and running, it will also assist us in clearing more of the backlog of cases; cases more than five years old, that have languished. I agree with Cannon Lightbourne, justice delayed can be justice denied,” said Bethel.
He concluded by sharing the significance of the opening of the legal year throughout the Commonwealth, which has be a tradition for quite some time.
“The opening of the legal year is very significant, What it signifies is the start of really the criminal assizes as they called them in old England. It is when all of the criminal courts start to function and so that has traditionally been marked by a ceremony. That is what we have gone through, firstly in Nassau, two days ago (January 9), and then of course here, in our nation’s northern capital,” disclosed Bethel.