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English common law forms the basis of the Bahamas’ judicial system.
The highest court is the Court of Appeal, consisting of three judges. The Supreme Court is composed of a chief justice, two senior justices, and six justices. The governor-general makes High Court appointments. Ultimate appeals go to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (based in the United Kingdom). In 2003 the Bahamas was not among the eight Caribbean nations that ratified a treaty to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice to handle some cases formerly heard by the Privy Council. Lower courts include three magistrates’ courts on New Providence and one on Freeport. For other islands, commissioners decide minor criminal and civil cases.
The judiciary is independent. The executive branch with the advice of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission appoints judges.
Long determine pretrial detentions are not uncommon in cases involving narcotics. In 1993, new magistrate’s courts were established in order to work toward a reduction of backlogs requiring long pretrial detentions. A new Supreme Court was established in Freeport in addition to the Supreme Court in Nassau.
The lowest level courts are magistrate’s courts, which handle crimes with a maximum sentence of five years. The Supreme Court handles most major cases as the trial court. Jury trial is only available for the Supreme Court cases. Criminal defendants have the right to an attorney, but government appointed counsel is provided only in capital cases. There is also a right to be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours, a right to bail, a presumption of innocence, and a right to appeal.
The constitution prohibits torture and other cruel punishment. However, in 1991, corporal punishment was reinstated after having been abolished for seven years. Capital punishment is still used despite protests from the United Kingdom, which has requested its former colonies to eliminate the death penalty.
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