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Complaints galore

Causes, no matter how righteous, are doomed to wither and die without public sympathy. It cannot be expected that the majority of the Barbadian population will understand why lawyers would want or need to strike (even if of the belief that lawyers generally do not work anyhow).

The less than five per cent of the population that has ever had any interaction with the court system may have some insight, but more likely not, since stepping into a court room leaves the average client dazed and somewhat confused.

To make a long story short, the public needs to be told in a clear, concise, systematic and oft-repeated manner exactly what the problems with the court system are and exactly how they are personally affected by such problems.

I think the Bar Association needs to do its groundwork but I will try to summarise the litany of complaints, as follows:

1. Too many matters to be heard by any single judge on a daily basis (Cause list).

No judge can reasonably hear and dispense justice in excess of 20 cases each and every day. In addition, the majority of these matters are listed for the same time (picture a doctor’s office where 20 patients are told to come for the same appointment time).

Most of these matters will have to be adjourned resulting in delays to clients. Since clients and their attorneys are left waiting for hours on end, the attorney is unable to address other people’s work that is sitting on the desk in their office during that wasted time period.

2. Missing files and documents.

Generally speaking without a file, which is the record of what has taken place in a matter, the judge cannot or will not hear the case. It is frustrating to both clients and attorneys to turn up for court on any given morning and wait for hours (see item 1) only to be told that their file cannot be located.

This is particularly painful where persons have travelled from overseas for the hearing of a trial which will not take place. One would assume that someone could spend some money and keep track of the files in the Registry.

Neither members of the public nor attorneys have access to the files (or anything else in the Registry) therefore someone who works there should always know where a file can be found. One can safely assume that in some other court somewhere in the world there may be a tracking system for files that can be implemented here.

3. Court files which remain at the old Coleridge Street location which has not been in use since October 5, 2009.

This should be self-explanatory. If the files are not where the court is then they are of no use to anyone. Not being able to access them also leads to delays in dispensing with client’s matters.

4. No proper system for the hearing of urgent applications.

An example of an urgent application would be where an individual is kidnapping a child and leaving the country within the next 24 hours. In such a situation it is imperative that access to a judge be obtained. Currently the system or lack thereof favours those who have some clout.

This state of affairs fails to recognise that all clients are equal before the law and that access to justice should not depend on the typical Barbadian way of “knowing somebody”. There is no identifiable system which can be relied upon and has translated into delayed hearings and near misses.

5. Impractical system for non-contentious matters pertaining to deceased persons’ estates.

Currently appointments have to be made in advance to see files in order to read the notes left by the Registrar giving direction as to what needs to be done to progress the matter. These files may or may not be available on the date appointed, which contributes to the delays. Probate applications used to take about six months from start to finish but currently the time frame for any particular matter is anyone’s guess.

6. The system of rotation of judges is impractical and does not allow for implementation of the much touted JEMS programme.

A judge may sometimes go out of chamber court rotation while matters are still pending and which will not be dispensed with until that judge is once again in rotation. If a judge is assigned elsewhere for six months then the client’s matter goes on hiatus for six months.

To be continued.

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