Notes From the Bermuda Supreme Court

July 31st, 2014

During my trip to Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda, I took an excursion to the Bermuda Supreme Court during a murder trial. I arrived just as the Judge was about to dismiss the jury for the week on Friday afternoon, so I only was able to get a very brief glimpse of the Bermudian Justice system

There were a lot of similarities. There were 12 jurors. The prosecution (“The Crown” as it is called) sat on the left facing the bench, closest to the jury. The defense sat on the right facing the bench. Before dismissing the jury, the judge gave them the standard warnings–don’t do any independent research on the case (including social media), don’t visit the site of the crime (not too far from the Court), don’t talk about this with anyone else, base your decision only on the evidence in court, etc.

After the jury was dismissed, the attorneys had a conversation that could have happened in any court. The defense attorney said that he had some sort of hearing in Missouri (no clue why), and he told the Court that he may need to request a delay in the trial if it goes till the middle of the August. The Judge asked whether his need to go to Missouri violates his client’s right to a speedy trial. The prosecutor seemed to object to any delay for obvious reasons. The court took it under advisement, and said she didn’t expect the trial to go that long, but she didn’t seem inclined to grant a delay.

judgeThere were also a number of differences. First, the judge, the prosecutor, and defense counsel all wore these scraggly-looking powder wigs. And they didn’t even cover the entire head. It was almost like a yarmulka that just sat on top of the head. Here is the biography of the presiding Justice, Hon. Mrs. Justice Norma Wade-Miller (they referred to her as “your ladyship”). Also the clerk who sat in front of the judge also wore a robe.

Perhaps the most striking difference was that the defendants (two young men) sat separately in this box-type section. It was surrounded by wood siding about 4-foot high, and above that was another 4 feet of glass. The defendants looked like they were in a fish bowl. An armed guard sat next to each defendant. I couldn’t tell if they were wearing shackles in the box, but I suspect they were, because when they were led out of the court they were chained.

The Bermuda Supreme Court also serves as a court of first instance for “indictable” offenses such as murder. More minor offenses are resolved by the Magistrates.

By chance, there was also some sort of protest at the Sessions House (their Parliament). Recently the Bermuda Supreme Court decided that many people should be granted citizenship (I don’t really understand how this works under their law). Here is a summary from the newspaper.

He added he rejected applications nearly a year later – a move overturned by the Immigration Appeal Tribunal and upheld by Supreme Court this year.

He added: “In essence, the Supreme Court ruling means that the Minister responsible for Immigration, save for various circumstances as set out in the Act, must grant Bermudian status to a PRC holder if the holder was granted a PRC as a result of having been in Bermuda on or before July 31st 1989, submits an application for naturalisation to become a British Overseas Territories Citizen and an application for Bermudian status under Section 20B (2)(b) of the Act, and if he Minister supports the naturalisation application and the Governor approves it.

“This provision in the Act became active as a result of PRC legislation being passed in 2001. When the matter was brought to the attention of the Ministry in October 2012 under the previous government, nothing was done to interfere with the relevant section of the Act.”

Mr Fahy said that 578 PRC’s are of British descent, 545 PRC’s are of Portuguese descent, 157 or so are of Jamaican descent and the remainder hail originally from Canada, America, Philippines, Barbados, Ireland and many other countries.

Anyway, this decision led to a protest. The Bermudians are very protective over granting citizenship, and basically only grant it by birth, or if you marry a Bermudian and live there for 10 years. This decision seems to be an outlier.

Also, due to the lack of land, property ownership is effectively impossible. (It reminds me of the oligopoly at issue in Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff). No one can buy land. You sign a 99-year lease with the government. Foreigners can’t lease land, unless they promise to only live their 6 months out of the year, and only use it as a summer home. Michael Bloomebr owns a palace there. As does Ross Perot. I understand he blew up some coral reef so he could his speed boat. Don’t mess with Texas.