Time to move on

We would not seek to suggest that an independent Barbados is under an obligation to follow the practices of developed or other developing countries.

But we would be the first to suggest that where international practices make good sense and local traditions seem outdated and irrelevant to modern times, that consideration be given to changing the manner in which we conduct some of our affairs.

And there are many practices that need to be dragged, whether screaming or not, into 2013.

For instance, professionals such as lawyers and doctors are still being disadvantaged by rules that restrict them from advertising their services.

In a small society like Barbados where lawyers are aplenty, there are many in the profession who struggle to make a living and much of that stems from a situation where many citizens do not know who they are.

Similarly, restricting lawyers from advertising their services puts many citizens at the disadvantage of not having readily available information to “shop around” for the best possible service in a specific area of litigation.

Other jurisdictions have much more enlightened practices. In the United States, though it is regulated by the state court and bar association rules, advertising of legal services is widely permitted.

In Italy the Bersani Decree which was made law in 2007 allows lawyers to advertise their services.

In Israel law firms have their own marketing managers. Reports are that the severity of the global economic crisis and the high number of lawyers per capita in that nation have made advertising of services an essential ingredient in keeping law firms afloat. Advertising services makes good sense.

But in Barbados, economic crisis or not, we still hold on to archaic legal traditions as though they are written in the blood of Jesus.

But it does not end there. The activities in our law courts and both Chambers of Parliament should be open to full public scrutiny. We are aware that debates are broadcast via radio from both the Lower and Upper House and we are also aware that citizens can sit in on non-indictable matters in the Magistrates’ Courts and be present for High Court hearings.

But we suggest that our democracy and an environment of openness be tested even further.

Those persons privy to court proceedings will always be in the minority because of the limited accommodation which our courts provide, both at the level of the Magistrate and Supreme Courts.

As occurs in jurisdictions such as the United States and some European nations, important court proceedings, with the exception of sexual offences, should be subject to television broadcast and public scrutiny.†We accept that this would call for certain logistical arrangements with our sole broadcasting agency.

But in increasing the scope of what is brought to the attention of the Barbadian populace, opportunities for other broadcasting entities would be created or the capacity of that which already exists could be enhanced.

Much of this unwillingness for change has to do with a conservatism that often outstrips that of our former coloniser. Members of the Royal Barbados Police Force hold to their chests information from the media not related to any major investigation as though they are guarding a secret mint; media photographers are barred from taking pictures in Parliament as though the flash from the camera will wake some members from deep slumber; Government ministers refuse to answer questions of public interest or dodge reporters when in reality they are the servants of the people and are under an obligation to give account; and the list goes on.

We look with delight where some involved in sporting activity in North American jurisdictions, who refuse to speak to the media on matters of public interest, are fined heavily by their governing bodies for their negligence. Perhaps it is time when, in promoting a change of culture, that some of our officials be subject to some punitive action when they refuse to divulge information of public interest or hinder its dissemination.

This is a sensitive issue, and especially in a third world country like Barbados where the thought of change is often worse than change itself, such a call might seem like a pipe dream.

But we look around the island and we hear complaints of how difficult it is for business to be facilitated in several areas; how slow it is to get action taken in most things; how unnecessary red tape often frustrates many into failure; and we see how cultural practices can be changed for the better.

Just food for thought.†††

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