A government minister, who up to five years ago was one of the country’s leading criminal defence lawyers, has a problem with several aspects of the island’s justice system.
Minister of Housing and Lands Michael Lashley made his feelings known today, identifying long-standing delays in delivery of court judgments, accused people not having the right to legal aid until they are charged, and individuals representing themselves in court, especially in major cases like murder, as among his major concerns.
He was contributing to debate on a more than half million supplementary resolution, most of it for departments within the Attorney General’s Office.
“Certainly the administration of justice needs to be overhauled. We need to overhaul the system and I cannot feel comfortable when the state only allows an attorney in relation to legal aid after that person has been charged, but not before he has been charged,” the St. Philip North MP said.
“After that person was in custody, interrogated, has signed all the statements, has gone to the scene of the crime.”
The attorney-at-law said he also saw the need to ensure accused people were adequately represented in court cases.
“Yes there is a right for a person to go to court unrepresented but I have an issue in modern Barbados that we have persons going to the court unrepresented against the state, before a jury,” he said.
“I recognise recently there was an unrepresented accused who represented himself in a murder case and he won the case, but I am saying that I don’t think it is right that we should allow persons to represent themselves, particularly in a capital case…
“Where there is an unrepresented accused, the sitting judge or magistrate obviously is more liberal in giving … the opportunity to ask whatever question, once it is not outside the rules of evidence, but I am still particularly concerned that … in this day and age in modern Barbados … persons can go to court and represent themselves, or be allowed to represent themselves, particularly in capital cases,” he added. Lashley also called for speedier court judgments.
“There is no time period in none of the law courts as to when you should start a criminal trial and when it should end. So I can say for a fact that I have done a Court of Appeal decision and I am still today waiting on the decision from the Court of Appeal,” he noted.
“I know the person that has carriage of the case has not been informed by the Court of Appeal in terms of whether the decision is ready to be handed down. So there are delays and of course we have no time period when a judge in a High Court criminal trial or civil trial or appeal trial should hand down judgment or a decision.
“I am reliably informed that there are many outstanding judgments and delays and sentences. I am informed that we have some decisions 10 years waiting, seven years waiting on simple points of law and you have litigants waiting. They cannot proceed with their lives and what they have planned because of some outstanding decision or judgment.” (SC)