Chief Justice Richard Ground is seen busy at work at his chambers. <em>*Photo by Simon Jones</em>
Chief Justice Richard Ground is seen busy at work at his chambers. *Photo by Simon Jones

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21: Bermuda must keep faith in the jury system, according to outgoing Chief Justice Richard Ground.

Mr Ground, who has held the post for eight years, said juries had risen to the challenges posed by increased gun crime and gang murders.

And he insisted there was no need to enlist specialist juries to try certain offences.

In an exclusive interview with the Bermuda Sun as he prepares to retire from office Mr Ground said the island had developed ‘a justice system to be proud of’.

The Chief Justice said: “I think juries are working just fine in Bermuda.

“Citizens that sit on juries are rising to the challenge posed by the modern criminal environment.

“I do not think there is a need for specialist juries.

“It is unconstitutional to hand-pick a jury.

“It should be a random selection. The randomness is its strength.

“Jury members take their duties very seriously here.”

Mr Ground said the justice system still needed to be constantly looking to update its procedures.

He added: “The time has come for defendants to provide defence statements before trial. This is not done in Bermuda at the moment and it seems only fair to me that defendants should disclose their defence.

“Neither side should be surprised when it comes to the trial. After all this is a desperately serious matter.

“It is time for a legislative framework which sets out when the names of witnesses can not be reported to the public.

“At the moment witness anonymity is done on an ad hoc basis.

“In some cases protecting the name of a witness from the public is obviously necessary but there needs to be a criteria set down.

“For the witnesses who really do not want to testify because they are afraid or simply because they do not want to there is not a lot that can be done.

“The answer lies in encouraging and looking after the witnesses better and making them understand the context of what they are doing.

“The DPP and the police are doing more to look after witnesses. It is getting better. We are seeing more ordinary people come forward and give evidence but it will be a slow process. It is a community issue.”

Mr Ground was appointed Chief Justice in 2004 at a time when there was a huge backlog of cases in the criminal justice system.

He arrived in Bermuda to newspaper headlines saying “Creaking Justice System in Crisis” and “Radical Measures Needed to Speed the Pace of Justice’.

He said: “It was a slog to begin with.

“At the first Arraignments Session we had 79 cases pending in the Supreme Court which was a humongous number.

“People were waiting two or more years for a trial.

“That was the first thing to address and I think we succeeded. Today there are 19 cases pending at Supreme Court and two trials running at the moment

“We introduced a warned list of cases that could be brought in if the schedules trial could not start.

“We made sure there was two criminal courts running all the time.”

During Mr Ground’s tenure the Commercial Court was established in Hamilton.

He said: “I have no regrets and I don’t think I would do anything differently now.

“Bermuda has a justice system, which is in basic good heart and of which it can be proud.

“Obviously it is not perfect and there are issues which need to be addressed.

“There will be people who feel they have been let down by the system and we have to learn from those cases and do better as we move forward.

“I think a number of people go away from court feeling they have had a fair trial, but not everyone.”