Technical upgrades to courts aid social distancing

Technical upgrades to courts aid social distancing
Chief Justice Brian Moree

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Bahamas Judiciary’s move to modernize its court processes and integrate the use of technology has positioned the body to better respond to present social distancing requirements, while highlighting the urgent need for a continuance of this reform.

Chief Justice Brian Moree revealed that the selection process has commenced of qualified companies to carry out various requirements of this digitization process.

He urged that, among other steps, this advancement would require an adequate allocation of national support and resources.

“It is widely accepted that the court system in The Bahamas needs urgent reform and modernization and we are fundamentally changing the way in which we are going to deliver court services in The Bahamas,” said Moree.

“Our delivery modes are going to move from a paper, manual procedure to a digitized automated procedure.”

He said: “Bearing in mind all of the consequences of COVID-19 – including the physical distancing requirements, it is an incontrovertible fact that E-services and remote virtual platforms are going to become a standard part of court services, consequently our modernization and reform program has been very timely.

“It is however largely dependent on securing an appropriate allocation of national resources in order to achieve our goals.”

The Citizen Security and Justice Programme is working with the Judiciary to modernize its processes.

Stakeholders went on a recent study tour to the Orlando, Florida Ninth Judicial Circuit Court to learn about its integrated case management system to connect all the courts, their court’s reporting capabilities, understanding the administrative processes needed to support these innovative solutions in addition to the necessary technology infrastructure.

This was just one of several study tours conducted in the past several months to actively explore the procurement of a case management system for the country, according to a statement.

“It is fundamentally important to the CSJP that we continue to offer the Bahamas Judiciary support in whatever capacity that we are capable of to steadily progress this goal of strengthening the Justice system in The Bahamas,” said Kendra Pratt, coordinator for the CSJP Component dedicated to strengthening the institutional capabilities of justice services.

Recently, two Expressions Of Interest have been issued for the Integration of the Case Management system and the Digitization of Court Records, with the selections to be announced in short order.

This kick-start to upgrading the Courts’ technology platforms comes even as the Judiciary moved to respond agilely to the present challenges of social distancing within the process of justice. In recent weeks, the Judiciary has conducted remote court hearings through the ZOOM video conferencing platform – which will remain a permanent fixture once a more secure solution is decided – and greater utilizing its new, sophisticated website (Bahamasjudiciary.com) as a portal for court services and the dissemination of information.

Moree said: “Through this website now we have the ability to automate the entire process of court dates through our Listing Office.

“Through our website, we now have ability to allow lawyers to upload documents to send to judges so we can have access. We have published an Urgent Duty Roster for the hearing of non-criminal matters and we assigned a judge to deal with all urgent matters for every week of the year.

“We also have a COVID-19 Help Desk that allows any member of the public to ask questions about their case.”

While strides have been made, Moree acknowledged that the allocation of national resources to the continuation of this advancement may prove more difficult in this post-Dorian and post COVID 19 era.

Nevertheless, he said both of those events have actually highlighted the vital importance of putting in place a modern technology platform for the operation of the courts.

“What we are trying to do is allow as much of our court system as possible to be facilitated through laptops and mobile devices,” Moree added.

“This will be extremely helpful to lawyers and judges, but the ultimate beneficiaries of these reforms will be the Bahamian public.”