Our citizens do deserve much clearer channels
We return to the judiciary and the crisis that exist of Barbadians accessing timely justice.
There is a culture of talk in Barbados that often passes as the solution. Many of our legal, political and administrative brains identify myriad problems at discussions, seminars, retreats and conferences, enjoy mandatory lunch fare and cocktails, and return to their normal routine, with the only subsequent change occurring being perhaps a few additional pounds around their waistline due to the combination of sitting and dining.
In our publication yesterday it was once again highlighted that Magistrate Douglas Frederick had dismissed a case of robbery for lack of prosecution. And he rightly did so. After three years, no evidence had been led against the accused because there was no file for reference by the court prosecutor. The conversation which ensued between Magistrate Frederick and the principal investigator –– had it not been so serious –– would have made excellent script for our annual Laff-It-Off production.
“Did you do everything you were supposed to do on it?” Mr Frederick asked, referring to the case file.
“Yes, sir,” the investigator responded.
“Since when?” Magistrate Frederick queried.
“Since 2012,” the police officer responded.
Questioned as to where the case file was in 2015, the police investigator said the file was coming through the channels and would be available soon. Since he didn’t mention the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand, the Vivari Channel in Albania or the English Channel, we will assume correctly that the channels referred to were police channels. But perhaps it would have been more palatable –– and understandable –– if these documents were indeed making their path through a waterway.
The question must be asked: if a police investigator admits to a magistrate that everything to be done with a case file has been completed since 2012, why is the file not in the court? Has it been lost? Has it been inadvertently misplaced by someone in the channels? Has it disappeared into thin air?
Taking the volume of dismissals and delays into consideration, why are so many files meandering through “the channels” over three-, four- and five-year periods, and even more?
We note that a matter related to another news publication which occurred fewer than two years ago is now addressing the court with all documentation present and accounted for. We note that a matter involving the accidental shooting of a son by his father which occurred in April, 2010, was brought to the court with all relevant documents made available and a decision speedily made by July, 2011. So there are indeed cases where files are readily made available, and occasions where justice is dispensed with speedily.
There is a situation where the Supreme Court is now offering bail to murder accused. It is a previously unheard of occurrence. But can one blame the law courts in circumstances where accused persons are being kept on remand for periods in excess of a year and no evidence is led by the Crown? One would hardly see a situation where evidence is being heard in such a matter and bail offered during that process.
We will not be as blunt in our descriptive analysis of our judiciary as a peeved Andrew Pilgrim, QC, who recently described it as a “joke”. But his frustration is felt by ordinary citizens whose lives are impacted upon, whether on the right or wrong side of the law.
“We are incapable of guaranteeing anyone a trial within a reasonable time,” Mr Pilgrim told Acting Magistrate Alliston Seale. “If you plead guilty to a speeding ticket, you cannot get a trial within a year.”
Mr Pilgrim’s lament occurred as a prosecutor indicated she did not know the status of a four-year-old murder case; that she was awaiting direction from the island’s Director of Public Prosecutions Charles Leacock, QC, who we will correctly assume lives in this jurisdiction, and whom she indicated she had been unsuccessful in reaching. Mr Pilgrim was being facetious about the speeding ticket, but the point was made.
But in addition to inefficiencies, there also appears to be a large measure of confusion.
We have had a situation where no lesser a person than Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson has been making a push for paper committals and preaching the virtues of the introduction of such a system. Paper committals were introduced in Barbados almost three decades ago but are scarcely used. Perhaps, Sir Marston should be investigating the “why”, and not promoting the “when”.
And just when we thought it could get no worse, it has.
The 1990 civil case of Hadley Thomas versus the Office of the Commissioner of Police and the Government of Barbados perhaps sums up all that is wrong with the judiciary; all that is vexatious about our processes; all that suggests there will never be solutions other than dinners, cocktail receptions and weight gain.
After 26 years, following an incident on the property of the Government, which led to a career-ending injury, Mr Thomas continues to suffer, with his physical circumstances deteriorating and no justice seemingly in sight. The judiciary and the processes that should be working for the benefit of its citizens have failed him miserably, as they continue to fail hundreds of other Barbadians. His case, too, has seemingly been lost in the “channels”.
National Hero Errol Walton Barrow once said that if Barbadians wanted justice in this island, they should keep away from Coleridge Street. The heart of our judiciary has moved to Whitepark Road and this has served only to extend the location of his advice. But, unfortunately, it is the only channel we have.