A system just worsening for the better?
This is now becoming akin to the proverbial broken record.
But until some major attempt to wrestle this national disgrace to the ground is made, it must be kept on the front burner to the point of embarrassing Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith, Chief Magistrate Pamela Beckles and any other individual of influence in our judicial set-up who has the capacity to address the crisis.
It has now become seemingly routine for magistrates to dismiss criminal cases for lack of prosecution. In most, if not all instances, these cases are being dismissed because there are no files or other relevant documents to proceed.
There was a time when cases were dismissed due to the consistent and prolonged absence of both police and civilian witnesses. Now, the process is seemingly not even reaching that stage because the system appears to have broken down so irrevocably that files are either disappearing, not being prepared or simply falling through the cracks.
Yesterday, this sad state of affairs was highlighted once again when Magistrate Douglas Frederick dismissed a case of theft and money laundering related to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Barbados National Bank Incorporated, where moneys exceeding $500,000 were involved. The failure of the prosecution to present relevant documentary information for the four-year-old case resulted in the accused persons walking free.
The irony of this situation is that if moneys were recovered in the case, now that it has been dismissed, the accused would be within their rights to seek to recoup them. It is that ridiculous owing to state ineptness.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Rapists, robbers and all other manner of criminal elements are walking free on almost a monthly basis because somewhere in Barbados, people who have been entrusted with certain responsibilities, and are being paid by taxpayers, are not doing their jobs.
And we ought to spare a thought for the victims of these crimes who are denied justice. It is a situation that must raise alarm bells, at best, and some suspicion, at worst.
There are cases of illegal drug possession involving millions of dollars that have not seen the light of day after charges were first laid in some instances for more than seven years. Our information is that some of these matters have been adjourned time and time again for reasons ranging from the absence of case files and absent witnesses, to protracted waiting periods for analytical evidence.
When other cases –– some summary –– are rushed through our judicial system, or in some instances, relodged or appealed on their dismissal, a clear-thinking and impartial public could be forgiven for suspecting that there might be more in the mortar than the pestle, with the chronic failure of relevant paperwork reaching our law courts.
The offering of bail to an individual charged with murder, following the lengthy period it took for the prosecution to start the case recently, caused much debate. But the time might not be too far off when some defence lawyer moves for a murder charge to be dismissed for lack of prosecution at the preliminary stage of the trial process.
Whether our magistrates have the authority to dismiss such a capital charge is not the critical issue here, but the mockery being made of our legal processes that is the important factor.
But while these inefficiencies are spiralling out of control, more police officers are being recruited, more lawyers are being admitted to the bar, more persons are being promoted within the judiciary, more individuals are receiving all types of accolades for their “work”, salaries are still being collected monthly within a malfunctioning system of worsening improvements.
Some years ago, as part of what many have been described as simply placing plaster over a festering sore, a discount system was introduced within the judiciary. Persons on remand for periods that sometimes stretched as long as seven or more years had that time taken into consideration when they received their sentences.
But for anyone to take comfort in that discount system, or to even promote it as some form of “improvement” in the dispensing of justice, speaks volumes as to why much of our processes wallow in the prevailing mire. This was mere smug adhesive placed over the problem.
What is particularly upsetting is that these are not new problems. And despite promises in high places of imminent improvements, our systems seem to be worsening for the better.