NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Chief Justice Brian Moree today announced multiples measures for the judiciary’s coronavirus (COVID-19) mitigation protocol, including a reduction in the use of court buildings, enhanced cleanups and social distancing where possible.
The protocols will be implemented effective March 18 – April 14.
The move comes as institutions nationwide shutdown after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.
“Our underlying approach to this matter has been to try and maintain the operations of the courts with regard to its essential service,” Moree said, during a press conference this morning.
“It is not a viable option to completely close down the criminal justice system, and it is very difficult to close down the civil justice system, so we will have to develop protocols as we move forward to ensure that the public continues o have access to the administration of justice in the essential core service that we deliver under our democratic system of government.”
He announced that social distancing procedures to be implemented include video conferencing, telephone conference calls, online conferencing video applications and disposition of applications on a basis of written submissions, whenever that is possible, in order to minimize in person hearings before the court.
He said when an in-person hearing cannot be avoided, attendance in court rooms will be limited to persons who must be there, and press representatives, subject to maximum numbers imposed under these protocols.
At least three feet will be maintained between person in the courtroom whenever possible and the duration and frequency of the in-person hearings will be limited by the residing judicial officer.
Moree noted new criminal jury trials will be suspended and ongoing jury trails must be completed within the next seven days – unless a judge adjourns cases for reasons unconnected to COVID-19 protocols.
He said that other criminal hearings will utilize video conferencing calling as much as possible, in order to avoid inmates being transferred and attorneys being in court.
He announced similar measures for civil trials and where video conferencing is not possible, the judge will decide if to proceed by court hearing providing there are no more than 12 persons in the courtroom and social distancing procedures can be followed.
As for the Magistrate’s courts, matters will proceed subject to social distancing procedures, avoiding overcrowding with no more than 15 people at one time.
Additionally, Moree announced that new trials will be suspended in criminal cases, juvenile cases, coroner inquests, and traffic matters until March 30.
Lastly, the chief justice said all travel by magistrates on circuit to the Family Island will be suspended until April 14
He said these measures are necessary to protect the safety and health of all professional and all public users of the courts, as well as keeping the judiciary operating to provide continued access to justice.
Moree also noted that an enhanced cleaning regime has been introduced in all high traffic public areas and court buildings, involving multiple cleaning cycles throughout the day with sanitizing liquids.
Sanitizing stations have also been established at strategic locations within court buildings with protocols for staff and court users, enforced by court marshals.
“Cleary, this entire situation is very fluid and dynamic, and the judiciary will respond with with necessary changes to these procedures as developments warrant on the ground,” Moree said.
“So I would ask members or the public, members of the bar, to check website in order to get updated information on various matters.
He added that several additional phases of the mitigation plan has been developed which will increase the level of intervention that will be required.