The Islands of Bermuda are situated in the Atlantic Ocean, some 600 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and 774 miles southeast (approximately 90 minutes by air) from New York. The Islands are not (as some mistakenly believe) in the Caribbean or part of the Bahamas (which lie over a thousand miles to the south of Bermuda). Modern air travel (daily flights to New York, Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Toronto and London) mean that Bermuda is no longer the remote and desolate isle upon which 17th century seafarers were once shipwrecked (providing the inspiration for Marvell’s poetry, and Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”).
Bermuda, which is the oldest and largest self-governing dependant territory of the United Kingdom, is both economically and politically stable. Although Bermuda has strong historical and constitutional links with the United Kingdom, its strongest economic ties are with the United States. The visible symbol of this dual relationship is the Bermuda dollar currency, which bears Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait, and has been at par with the US dollar since 1970. Prudent financial management has ensured low inflation, a balanced budget and virtually full employment for Bermudians.
Bermuda enjoys a reputation for financial probity and a sophisticated infrastructure of professional service providers, which competing offshore jurisdictions struggle to match.
Bermuda is the world’s leading domicile for captive insurance companies and one of the world’s leading reinsurance markets (alongside London and New York). It is also an important offshore financial centre, being the most prestigious domicile of choice for numerous trusts, mutual funds, holding companies and special purpose vehicles which enjoy a tax neutral regime. The island’s strategic position and adoption of the UNCITRAL Model Law also make Bermuda an ideal venue for international commercial arbitrations.
The Bermuda legal system is founded upon the English common law and decisions of the English Court of Appeal and House of Lords are highly persuasive authority in the Bermuda Courts. Much of Bermuda’s Statute Law is derived from English legislation, for example many of the provisions of the Bermuda Companies Act 1981 (including the regime governing corporate insolvency) are derived from the English Companies Act 1948. The Rules of the Supreme Court of Bermuda 1985 (updated in 2006),which govern civil procedure, are derived from the English Supreme Court Practice 1979 and 1999.
The Supreme Court of Bermuda is the trial court for all civil claims over $25,000. Civil trials are heard before a single judge sitting without a jury (save in claims for defamation, wrongful arrest and false imprisonment where the right to jury trial exists). The Supreme Court of Bermuda presently comprises four full-time judges (the Chief Justice and three puisne judges). In order to deal with the increasing demands of local and international litigation, two more assistant puisne judges have recently been appointed. In January 2006 a new Commercial Court jurisdiction was created. This court is staffed by specialist judges with extensive commercial experience in private practice and on the bench.
The Court of Appeal for Bermuda, comprising the President and two Justices of Appeal, sits in periodic sessions. A final appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. In civil cases, a party may appeal to the Privy Council as of right against any final order where the sum at issue is more than $12,000.
The Bermuda Bar follows many English traditions (for example, advocates wear wigs and robes in court). However, unlike England (which still maintains a distinction between barristers and solicitors) there is a fused legal profession in Bermuda (similar to Canada and some Australian jurisdictions). All lawyers admitted to practise in Bermuda (called “Barristers and Attorneys of the Supreme Court of Bermuda”) have the right of audience before the Bermuda courts. Admission to the Bermuda Bar is restricted to persons possessing Bermudian status who have been admitted to another Commonwealth Bar and have completed twelve months pupillage, and to non-Bermudians who are entitled to practise in another Commonwealth jurisdiction, who have been resident in Bermuda for twelve months, and who possess a valid work permit. However, English Queen’s Counsel may be openly admitted in appropriate cases.
For further information regarding civil litigation in Bermuda please contact us.