WEDNESDAY, NOV. 7: Court staff are to face tougher vetting procedures, Attorney General and Minister for Justice Kim Wilson said yesterday.

Ms Wilson explained that court staff – who routinely deal with sensitive information in relation to trials, including gang-related murders – were cleared at the same level as other Civil Servants, who work in less sensitive areas like Works and Engineering.

She said: “We want to improve the vetting procedure so the deparment has more appropriate control over who they’re hiring.”

Ms Wilson stressed that there was no evidence that court staff had abused their position or leaked sensitive material.

She said: “No, not at all. But this is a better administrative process to put in place so we ensure we increase public confidence in the judicial system.”

Ms Wilson was speaking after she unveiled a series of new proposals designed to give members of the public more power to complain about members of the judiciary who have acted improperly and give courts administration more independence.

Integrity

These will include a Judicial Complaints Authority and an autonomous Department of Court Administration, separate from the mainstream Civil Service.

Ms Wilson said: “Measures will be implemented to safeguard the integrity of the judiciary by ensuring that it serves the public as intended to prevent adjudicators from succumbing to the temptation to abuse the enormous powers they wield.”

Ms Wilson maintained that members of the Bermuda bench were committed to upholding high standards of personal and professional conduct.

But she added: “However, in the absence of a Judicial Complaints Authority to address complaints from members of the public with respect to judicial conduct of rulings in court proceedings separate and apart from the right to appeal magistrates’ or judges’ decisions is a glaring omission in our domestic regime.”

Ms Wilson stressed that the new body would deal with complaints about judges, not their decisions, and include things like the use of language which could be seen to be sexist or racist.

She added that “sensitivity training” may be all that is required to address many complaints about judges’ conduct in court.

Ms Wilson agreed that, under the Constitution, Governor George Fergusson would have the final say on setting up a judicial watchdog.

But she added: “I do not see any objections. Judicial Complaints Authorities are established in many jurisidictions. Britain is one of them.”

A Judicial Service Committee – to advise the Governor on appointments to the bench, terms and conditions of service and discipline for the judiciary would also be set up.

Ms Wilson said that would replace the current system of committees set up specially to advise on the appointment of judges – which meant “no sustained review” of judicial service requirements takes place.