AG cautions critics

Attorney General Samuel Bulgin said on Wednesday that unlawful criticism of judges will be punished.

Mr. Bulgin made his remarks at the formal opening of Grand Court, when the Attorney General traditionally moves the motion to open the court’s new year.

He said 2007 had dished out its fair share of challenges. ‘Some of us involved in the administration of justice were not spared. There was scrutiny, criticisms – some justified, some not justified – there were abuses, threats of bodily harm and so on, but none significant enough to daunt our efforts.

‘Indeed, the Judiciary itself was the subject of a lot of press coverage, some of which was simply unfortunate and at times bordering on unlawful. In this regard, I merely wish to restate the legal position about criticisms of the Judiciary – namely, that justice is not a cloistered virtue and is therefore not immune from criticisms. However, such criticisms should be within certain parameters.

‘Accordingly, where it is seen that there is a deliberate attempt to undermine the administration of justice, the law is not without recourse and perpetrators will be investigated and if found guilty will be punished.’

Mr. Bulgin said these remarks should not be regarded as a threat; they were ‘simply aimed at reminding all of us that as a democracy we are under-pinned by the seminal concept of the rule of law.’

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie shared his thoughts on the subject after Mr. Bulgin concluded his report on work accomplished by the various departments for which he is responsible.

The Attorney General said that Legal Department, which received 1,365 files in 2007, had regular meetings with senior police officers to discuss key issues of concern. One suggestion was the formation of a court users group that would involve defence attorneys and the courts ‘as a forum through which problems may be identified in early course and change may be affected.’

In reply, the Chef Justice said if the public lacks confidence in the integrity of the courts the administration of justice is likely to be impaired. Criticism must be expected, he agreed, but sometimes it arises from the public’s misunderstanding

He suggested that the court users group mentioned by Mr. Bulgin could serve as a public relations body for the courts.

Mr. Bulgin summarised the past year’s work of the Legal Drafting Department and said the Tobacco Bill was nearing completion.

Proposals to increase efficiency in the courts include the moving of some offences from Grand Court to Summary Court: for example, threatening violence, assault causing actual bodily harm, theft to a certain value and first-time burglary.

Offences that can be dealt with only in Grand Court, such as murder and rape, would be sent to that court after one mention in Summary Court. The Legal Department has adopted as standard practice giving defence attorneys full disclosure of evidence, so repeated Summary Court appearances would not be necessary.

The Legal Department’s efficiency has already been improved by delegating responsibility for criminal matters to the Solicitor General, Ms Cheryll Richards. She now has the power to sign indictments and decide whether criminal proceedings will continue or discontinue.

Mr. Bulgin said there were still steps to be taken this year. They include getting the administrative underpinnings in place for the Alternative Sentencing Law, getting the DNA laboratory accredited, and working on the problem of getting summons served on witnesses in a timely manner.