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The Bahamian Court System

Magistrates Court

The Stipendiary and Circuit (S & C) Magistrates’ Courts are the primary courts for many civil and criminal cases.  S & C Magistrates are appointed by the Governor-General acting in accordance with the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission.  There are currently fifteen (15) permanent S & C Magistrates, including the Chief Magistrate, two (2) Deputy Chief Magistrates, one (1) Senior Magistrate and one who serves as a full-time circuit magistrate.  In addition to the full-time circuit magistrate, other S & C Magistrates from New Providence also go on circuit to the other Islands where there is no resident Magistrate or in cases where the resident magistrate is unable, for whatever reason, to hear a case.

A Magistrate has jurisdiction to try all summary offences, investigate all charges of indictable offences and to hear and determine any civil cause where the amount to be recovered or the value of the property in dispute does not exceed $5,000.00, unless a statute provides jurisdiction in relation to a higher amount, as is the case in a number of regulatory statutes e.g. the National Insurance Act (PDF 130KB).    Various juvenile and domestic matters are also heard in the Magistrates' Court.

Industrial Tribunal

The Industrial Tribunal comprises (3) members appointed by the Governor-General acting on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. The Tribunal has the power to hear and determine trade disputes, register industrial agreements, hear and determine matters relating to the registration of such agreements, make orders or awards and award compensation on complaints brought and proved before the Tribunal.

Supreme Court

This is the second highest court in the country. The Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice and not more than eleven and not less than two Justices of the Court.  The Chief Justice is appointed by The Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by The Governor-General on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission.

The Supreme Court has unlimited original jurisdiction in civil and criminal causes and matters and an appellate jurisdiction conferred on it by the Supreme Court Act, 1996 or any other law, which includes appeals from the Magistrates’ Court.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal consists of a President, the Chief Justice who, as head of the judiciary, is an ex officio member of the Court and sits at the invitation of the President, and not less than two and not more than four Justices of Appeal.  The Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from judgments, orders and sentences made by the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal also has jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from matters in a magisterial court in respect of indictable offences triable summarily on the grounds that - (i) the court had no jurisdiction or exceeded its jurisdiction in the matter; (ii) the decision was unreasonable, could not be supported by the evidence or was erroneous in point of law; (iii) the decision of the magistrate or the sentence passed was based on a wrong principle; (iv) some material illegality occurred affecting the merits of the case; or  (v) the sentence was too severe or lenient.

Privy Council

At the apex of the court hierarchy for The Bahamas is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, England. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council serves as the ultimate Court of Appeal in all matters where appeal is permissible. The Judicial Committee consists of the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Chancellor, ex-Lord Presidents, the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and such other members of the Privy Council as from time to time hold or have held high judicial office and two other privy counsellors who may be appointed by the sovereign.

The Legal Profession

The practice of law in The Bahamas continues the oldest traditions and highest standards of the profession. If you witness a trial in the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, you will observe not only the colonial horsehair wigs and gowns, but also the good manners and professional etiquette, while each side tenaciously defends his client’s cause.
A Code of Professional Conduct sets out in practical detail the standards that lawyers are expected to observe. All of them are to be followed meticulously and conscientiously. A copy and explanation of the Code can be found on the Bahamas Bar Association’s website at
www.Bahamasbarassociation.com.  Contact information for the Bahamas Bar Association: P. O. Box N 4632, Nassau, New Providence, The Bahamas:  Phone: (242) 326-3276; Fax: (242) 328-4615; Email: bba@batelnet.bs