Are you thinking of filing a civil lawsuit against someone in The Bahamas or, perhaps, you have recently been sued by someone? Become familiar with the civil litigation process and your options when proceeding with a civil action in The Bahamas. Whether you have participated in a lawsuit in another jurisdiction or you are new to the process altogether, understanding the procedure in The Bahamas will help you with your case.
First, consult with an attorney to determine if the claim is within the relevant limitation period as many actions may only be brought in court for a certain time. An action can be dismissed if it is filed after the limitation period has expired. Also consider whether your dispute is suitable for mediation, which is an out-of-court dispute resolution procedure. Parties meet with an experienced mediator to discuss the facts and law surrounding their dispute and often, a settlement may be reached without the need for court intervention. In The Bahamas, mediation is not required before filing a lawsuit, but it is an efficient solution in many types of cases.
Second, filing the lawsuit. Bahamian civil actions commence with the issuance of a writ of summons, an originating summons, a petition, or an originating motion, which must be served on the other party or parties to the action The majority of civil actions are begun by writs of summons which may include a Statement of Claim, setting out the facts supporting the claim made by the plaintiff. The defendant must enter a defence to the action within fourteen days after he enters an appearance to the writ of summons or after service of the Statement of Claim, whichever is later. The type of claim involved and the relief sought will determine the type of filing to make or the response to give. You should consult an attorney to determine what is appropriate for your case.
After the parties have filed their Statement of Claim and their Defence (these are called pleadings) the next stage is case management by the judge who will conduct the trial. A case management hearing will take place during which deadlines will be set for the case to progress, and a trial date will be set. At the case management stage, directions will be given to the parties regarding disclosure of evidence related to the dispute. Parties must disclose all non-privileged documents that they have in their possession and that relate to the dispute to the other parties in the case, even if the documents help to support the other party's case. If they do not do so, the other party may apply for an order to obtain the documents. Parties are also directed to exchange Witness Statements before trial. These statements include factual information known by the persons who will give evidence relating to the dispute. If experts are to be used, the judge will direct the parties on how and when to submit expert reports.
Occasionally, parties may need to make applications to the court prior to the trial. These applications are called interlocutory applications and may involve matters such as whether the action should be dismissed without a trial, or if an injunction becomes necessary to restrain a party from acting in a particular way prior to the trial of the dispute, or whether a foreign plaintiff should be required to put up a sum of money to secure the defendant's costs in the event that the defendant is successful in the action and is awarded costs against the plaintiff. See more on costs in litigation in a later post.
After the parties have disclosed their documents to each other and have examined the evidence and the Witness Statements, and have made all of their interlocutory applications, the case will be ready for trial. At trial, Witness Statements and documents may be used as evidence in chief. Witnesses may be cross-examined as to the content of their Witness Statements. The parties generally agree on the submission of admissible documents to the court before trial, and the judge makes any determinations regarding documents whose admissibility is disputed by the parties. If the parties are represented by counsel, their attorneys will make legal arguments on their behalf once all of the evidence has been received. After trial, the judge will reserve his decision and issue a written ruling within a few months after the end of the trial. Without delays, the litigation process usually takes approximately 18 months.
Filing a lawsuit? Seek out an experienced civil and commercial litigator to fight for you. Contact Gonsalves-Sabola Chambers online or call the office at +1 242 326 6400.