One law for all

The date is October 1, 1998 and British tourist Paula Bridges (now Martin) suffers a near fatal bullet wound to the chest as she and a male companion are robbed at a Barbados hotel.

A Barbadian male is charged, tried and convicted and on the 10 year anniversary of her close brush with death the visitor returns to the island to thank those who helped her.

Fast forward to 2013 — March 17 to be precise. Calling it a case of déjà vu would be stretching it, but on this occasion British couple Philip and Ann Prior are also robbed and shot, and soon after another Barbadian male is arrested and charged by police and final judgment on the matter is pending.

The priors who were walking along Hincks Street in the City while here as part of a cruise returned home this week and, like Bridges eventually did, are determined to return.

Between and during both of these unfortunate incidents we are sure there were other instances when some visitors to Barbados suffered at the hands of criminals.

All of this notwithstanding, at a time when concerns about the theft of gold and other precious metals has fueled some worries about crime in Barbados, including those against tourists, does it warrant the establishment and sitting of a special court to hear and rule on crimes against visitors to these shores?

The issue came to the fore last week when the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association held its first quarterly meeting. While other speakers, including Minister of Tourism and International Transport, and BHTA Executive Vice President Susan Springer, voiced concern about the issue of crime generally, and those against tourists specifically, it is a small portion of a statement from BHTA President Patricia Affonso-Dass that has been generating some debate.

“Visitor studies show … crime and harassment act as a deterrent to visitors. The level of crime is cause for concern insofar as it affects the life of all Barbadians and poses threats to the development and continuation of economic activity especially in the tourism an offshore business. The process of laws should be modernised, where necessary, and accelerated and, if needed, a special court be convened to dispense of these cases swiftly,” the hotelier advised.

Crime and safety are concerns of all societies, whether or not they are as heavily dependent on tourism as Barbados is. But this reliance, especially on business from the British market, is reason enough why people in and out of the industry should be concerned when events like the ones involving Bridges, and the Priors take place.

Our view, however, is that it would be unwise to simply focus on solving crimes against visitors when there is the need for a more comprehensive solution to crime generally.

Resolve crimes against visitors and ignore those affecting the wider society and you will still be left with a significant problem. Fix crime generally and your solution will include this against tourists.

All rational Barbadians should, and we believe do, frown on crimes against tourists, which in effect only takes bread out of all of our mouths The seriousness of such occurrences is exacerbated by the fact that for the past few years tourism has been in decline, with the vital British market chief among the areas of worry.

Acting like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand is therefore not the best option to exercise at this time.

But neither is panic nor irrationality. We agree with Barbados Bar Association President Andrew Pilgrim, who did not think that having a special court to expedite cases involving crimes against tourists “may be the best thing at this time”, and that it “could suggest that crimes against certain types of victims are more serious than crimes against your own people”. In fact, we shudder to think what Barbados would have become if there was a need to ever have such a judicial arrangement.

Additionally, at a time when lawyers, litigants and ordinary members of the public are crying out about kinks in the justice system, and when police resources are severely stretched, this new layer of the criminal justice system would very well be more of a challenge than a meaningful solution. There is crime everywhere. The Priors could easily have been robbed and shot at home as they were in Bridgetown.

Let us all work with the police and the courts to resolve Barbados’ current crime concerns, but let us do it in a fair and comprehensive way. To do otherwise might itself be considered a crime.

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