Lawmakers moved to change the way the courts operate and speed up the wheels of justice as a new Evidence Act was passed in the Senate today.
Lawmakers also amended the Interpretation Act Cap 1 – which sets the standard by which statutes are interpreted and defined – to increase the categories of people before whom an affidavit may be sworn or affirmed.
Under the current law, that number is limited and excludes an individual’s ability to swear an affidavit before an attorney.
Leader of the Senate Kay McConney told the Upper Chamber today that the new legislation is one of several steps being taken by the Attorney General to bring about improvements in the justice system, including new courts, extra judges and adjustments to the penal system.
She also pointed to Cabinet’s approval in March of a new case management system as another area that was targeted for greater efficiency in the justice system.
Senator McConney said: “The legal practice has become more technologically advanced. We are increasingly using electronic flows and less paper as part of that system.
“E-filing, which is the use of technology to file documents in court electronically without having to physically appear in the registry to do so is part of this direction.”
But the Minister for Innovation, Science and Smart Technology said court processes in many jurisdictions have not kept up with these technological advances, and case management is one area that can be improved.
She said: “Various legislative amendments are envisaged to give effect to the proposed new case management system for Barbados.
“Among them, Sir, is that the Supreme Court Civil Rules Procedure 2008 will be amended to allow for the filing of documents through electronic means; allow for the serving of documents through electronic means; allow for the payment of the necessary stamp duty electronically, and amend the requirements for affidavits to support certain applications.”
Presently, affidavits must be signed by the owner under oath in the presence of a legal assistant who will serve as a witness.
Other proposals that would also give effect to the proposed new case management include a facility for judgment or
orders to be signed electronically, as well as a rules committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice to meet over the proposals.
According to Senator McConney court documents are already being filed electronically at the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice, and it is possible in Barbados.
She said: “Documents can be digitised and filed electronically; notice sent to judges automatically by text; hearings are done virtually by video technology; rulings given and communicated electronically.”
Senator Caswell Franklyn welcomed the legislation, describing it as the least controversial piece of legislation to be introduced since he was appointed to the Senate.
But he then called for more steps need to be taken to improve the administration of justice.
He said: “Because we’ve had a lot of instances where documents have been lost in the registry and all kinds of stuff, I want [us] to fix that as well. This is good, but there are other things we need to fix and we need to fix them quickly.
“I know of cases – as a matter of fact, cases that I’m involved in – that you cannot find the file. And eventually, the file turns up a couple of years later filed out of order.
“So if we had a system where all documents were filed electronically… there would be no excuses for not finding a file.”
But Deputy Leader Rudolph Greenidge warned that the effect of e-filing will be lost if the court continues to function as it presently does. arguing that filing documents is not the main problem in the courts.
Senator Greenidge: “The backlog that we have in the courts, that backlog has nothing to do with filing.
“We can introduce as much technology as we want, at the end of the day technology does not hear cases. Technology does not determine cases. Technology does not write decisions.”