Unfortunately, things have fallen apart
Call it a time warp. Or perhaps, a black hole. A bad dream could suffice. Maybe some in authority in Barbados are trying their best to mimic Rip Van Winkle.
Whatever is the scenario, the present crime situation seems likely to get worse in Barbados before it gets better. Our country’s hierarchy continues to tiptoe around several issues related to crime, especially those where illegal drugs, unlawful gun possession and murder are inter-connected.
There are sociologists and other academics who rightfully suggest that there is a connection between poverty and crime; unemployment and crime; poor parental guidance and crime; and lack of education and crime. But away from the textbooks, manuscripts and journals, there are simply persons bent on criminality irrespective of the social conditions that might or might not favour their participation in productive, lawful social interaction.
There is a sufficiency of evidence in Barbados to suggest that the violent crime presently affecting the island does not rest solely at the doors of the poor and uneducated. Again, we say, there are some among us bent on criminality because of the immense wealth that can be gained.
But there is something much more distressing.
Late Barbadian legal luminary Sir Roy Marshall had this to say in March 2011. “One of my constant preoccupations is the state of the administration of justice in Barbados, and for that matter, much of the Caribbean. To be brutally frank, I think our present system has deteriorated to a point that is embarrassing,” he said.
One now simply has to follow what occurs on a daily basis in Barbados to appreciate the prophetic wisdom of Sir Roy.
Let’s look at the crime situation. If criminals are running rampant on our streets, then one of the main responses ought to be the detection, arrest, prosecution and punishment – if found guilty – of these offenders. But what is it that is happening?
To the credit of the Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith and members of the Royal Barbados Police Force, detection and arrests are being made. In fact, the success rate in these two areas over the past two to three years has been phenomenal. The Royal Barbados Police Force, according to reports, have a successful detection and arrest rate as it relates to very serious crimes, inclusive of but not confined to murder, of more than 90 per cent. But then, sadly, things seem to fall apart. And while the police force is to blame in some instances, our overall judicial systems are equally culpable.
Sadly, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson has become akin to a stuck record with excuses, promises, suggestions, excuses, promises, suggestions, and then more excuses. In 2011 when he assumed office the promise was to implement measures to deal with the backlog of cases. Five years later and the backlog has seemingly got worse.
Recently he highlighted measures in distant places such as Singapore, including computerization which had assisted in easing the backlog of cases. He spoke of the desire to implement similar strategies in Barbados. He pointed to the introduction of legislation to facilitate paper committals as a measure to ease the burden on the magistrates’ courts as it related to preliminary hearings. However, he lamented that the backlog had shifted from the magistrates’ courts to the Supreme Court. He also spoke of the shortage of judges.
Those were the excuses, explanations, suggestions and promises. But again we ask: What has been done since assuming office to improve the administration of justice in Barbados?
We mean our Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite no disrespect, but we are sure that he is aware that platitudes and hollow speak add nothing to the fight against crime.
Speaking to the media after the recent ceremony to mark the commencement of the legal year 2016-2017, Mr Brathwaite urged legal authorities to go into communities where guns are stashed and seize them. He also said that the police force needed to track and respond to how firearms were being smuggled into the country. This was banality on stilts.
The Royal Barbados Police Force has been going into communities and seizing guns and apprehending felons. They have not only been responding to how firearms have been smuggled into Barbados, they have identified the department and officials who seem likely to be facilitating such unlawful entry. But surveillance cameras still remain absent from certain strategic areas in our ports of call.
Our bail laws still accommodate the 21st century phenomenon in Barbados of repeat murder accused being on the streets and in some cases bailed murder accused returning to the court with additional murder charges. Perhaps, this is the time to review our Bail Act. The discretion of judges with respect to bail applications for murder appears to be leaving a lot to be desired and not really in the interest of the wider law-abiding society.
And at some stage there must be an enquiry into the police force as it relates to criminal case files. Too many serious cases are being dismissed on a weekly basis because files cannot be found. According to reports files have disappeared from the Court Prosecutors Office, and in some instances these relate to drug charges. One prominent Bridgetown businessman, we are reliably informed, has not had his drug case started because the relevant file has walked away from Central Police Station.
Perhaps there is a reason why accused murderers and drug dealers smile while on their way to and from our law courts. They also recognize what Sir Roy articulated in 2011.