Lawyer encourages AG office to utilize plea bargains to address court backlog

Lawyer encourages AG office to utilize plea bargains to address court backlog

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Prominent Attorney Christina Galanos yesterday expressed growing concern over the building backlog of criminal cases that have yet to be tried in the Supreme Court – an issue she believes has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even before COVID-19 criminal Supreme Court matters were extremely backlogged and they were not being heard for some years after the commission of the offense,” Galanos said, in an interview with Eyewitness News.

She noted that for a number of cases the usual backlog of three to five years has been extended to 10 years or more – admitting that she has a number of clients who have not been tried within a period of ten years or more.

“This problem is a decades-long problem,” Galanos furthered.

“This problem did not just creep up overnight. This problem existed before COVID.”

In June last year, Chief Justice, Brian Moree announced plans to revamp the judicial system.

Moree said the introduction of a modern, integrated, and efficient case management system will mainly address the inefficiencies with respect to case backlogs as cases had been pushed back as far as 2021.

The CJ indicated that the court system will need the assistance of all the other stakeholders in order to make a serious dent in the backlog.

Last March, Supreme Court Justice Bernard Turner announced that an external agency had been engaged to evaluate the Supreme Court’s system and address backlog issues.

But Galanos said yesterday that she believes the only way to effectively address the backlog is by utilizing more plea bargaining.

“I do not think that that tool is being relied on sufficiently enough by the Office of the Attorney General,” she said.

“…What I think needs to happen is defendants should be incentivized by significant discounts to take these matters out of the court’s calendar. And it requires a reasonable effort and reasonable offers and acceptances being made on behalf of the defendant, defense counsel, and the Crown.”

Galanos indicated that while more judges can be appointed to attempt to address the backlog, significant challenges remain in the judiciary ranging from the resources of criminal attorneys, space, and the rate of crime occurring.

“Given the rate that crime is happening, given that the system is already backlogged and there are many cases [from 2014 to date] that have not been brought to trial, even if you were to appoint another 10 judges, it would still be some time before you ever see a dent in the backlog,” she asserted.

“Crime is occurring every day. It’s not just the murder cases. It’s also the rape cases. It’s also the kidnappings cases, the fraud cases, armed robbery.

“What the emergency order did is it compounded the delay, by ceasing trails by jury because we are in a state of emergency.

“So what happens, in essence, is an already backlogged system is now put on hold.”