Bar association rejects judge-only trials
The legal fraternity is rejecting a recommendation by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Charles Leacock, QC, to abandon trials by jury as a means of reducing the backlog of cases in the law courts.
Leacock had told participants at a Regional Security System (RSS) course on prosecuting drug offences last Friday that there were over 10,000 cases awaiting trial in the Magistrates Courts here and another 800 in the High Court, with 200 being added every year.
He suggested that the backlog could be reduced if trial by jury were abandoned and judge-only trials introduced instead.
However, President of the Bar Association of Barbados Liesel Weekes sees it differently, telling Barbados TODAY this afternoon that scrapping jury trials would not necessarily cut down the “mountain” of cases clogging the judicial system.
“I’m not certain that doing away with a jury trial is going to significantly impact the backlog. The pre-trial stage is where the delays occur and so we have to look at what transpires there, where those delays occur there, so we can alleviate those delays that occur, prior to trial. I don’t know what significant difference doing away with jury trials would be in a criminal matter,” Weekes contended.
The legal body’s spokesperson further explained that civil matters did not require jury trials, therefore, those cases would not be impacted by any decision to do away with such trials.
On the other hand, she maintained, there was no difficulty completing criminal cases once the trial begins, since the delays tend to occur before the start of the hearing.
“When the trial starts, I don’t get the impression that the delays occur in the trial of the action. Criminal matters usually tend to start and finish . . . and the only trials for which we have jury in Barbados is criminal trials,” the law association head added.
Leacock had said that the time had come to reexamine the need to continue with the jury system for all indictable offences, stressing that over 22 Commonwealth countries, including Belize, had abolished jury trials for criminal matters.
“With the continued increase in cases and the large volume of cases to be tried, and with the limited and finite judicial time that’s available, we should seriously consider whether trial for all indictable matters, especially drug matters [and] money laundering, should be tried by jury,” Leacock had argued.
The country’s most senior public prosecutor added that judge-only trials would also curb jury tampering, jury intimidation and witness tampering, while arguing also for the acceptance of witness statements, saying there was too much reliance on oral evidence in some cases.
Last July, a Bill to abolish preliminary inquiries in Magistrates’ Courts in a bid to reduce the backlog of cases was introduced to the Lower House, with broad support from both Government and Opposition.
In leading off debate on the Bill, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite had said the Magistrate’s Court (Amendment) Bill 2016 would reduce unnecessary delays in bringing criminal, civil and traffic proceedings to conclusion.