Four years ago in its judgement in the matter of Winton Campbell versus the Attorney General, the Caribbean Court of Justice made some damning comments about Barbados’ judicial system.
The CCJ described as “unfortunate” the fact that Justice Frederick Waterman took three years to deliver his judgement in that civil case. The region’s highest court also took umbrage with the fact that the Barbados Court of Appeal took almost four and a half years on the same matter.
Justice Michael de la Bastide stated, inter alia: “Such delays deny parties the access to justice to which they are entitled and undermine confidence in the administration of justice.”
Justice Adrian Saunders went further by giving a timeline in which he believed certain judicial matters should be determined.
“In our view, no judgment should be outstanding for more than six months and, unless a case is one of unusual difficulty or complexity, judgment should normally be delivered within three months,” Justice Saunders said.
We agree with all that these learned gentlemen had to say in 2009. But in the immortal words of American folk singer and song writer Bob Dylan, and from the reality which has existed in the intervening years, they were simply “blowing in the wind”. We use this legal scenario to make a point. However, our focus is not primarily on the judiciary but on a culture of sloth that appears to permeate Barbadian society and institutions.
Four years since those judicial observations by the CCJ there are still Barbadian citizens awaiting final justice in civil matters especially, and some criminal cases, that in several instances go back over a decade. And in many cases that we have researched the parties to the litigation live in the Barbados jurisdiction and have done so for the duration of their torturous wait.
It is an indictment on everyone involved in the judicial process when criminal accused are sentenced and one hears that the three or four years spent on remand will be docked from their penalty. What was happening in the system that could lead to someone being denied justice for so long?
We acknowledge that in some civil matters one or more of the parties might frustrate the process by their failure to produce pertinent documents, strategic change of attorneys, convenient periods of convalescent leave and myriad tactics. But the courts have processes to deal with such hindrances. Conversely, it has been demonstrated that in some cases, as correctly pointed out by the CCJ, the problem rests with those who manage the system.
But the societal and institutional sloth, of which we speak, is not the bedfellow of the judiciary alone.
The insurance industry is as frustrating an entity as there is in relation to settling claims in a timely and judicious manner.
From our research there are injury, house fire and accident settlements that are still to be made despite the matters having made the rounds for a decade in some instances.
We ask: Why should this be? What excuse can be given for the failure to settle, or dismiss for that matter, an accident claim or house fire claim where the incident occurred in 1999 or 2005? Indeed, some citizens have gone to their eternal reward with their insurance claims catching the proverbial administrative dust.
Often enquiries to these institutions are met with mundane and puerile excuses related to paperwork. But under no circumstances should our children be completing their primary and secondary education before the anniversary of when we submitted our insurance claims.
There have been confirmed instances where claimants and insurance companies have to wait for accident reports from the Royal Barbados Police Force for over two years in some instances, and for medical reports from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for similarly long periods of time.
Legislation was enacted some years ago which stipulated time frames by which medical reports should be produced. We wonder if those guidelines have reached the powers that be at the Martindale’s Road, St. Michael facility.
Many people have died without being compensated for the acquisition of their land by the Government, in some reported cases up to 15 years after the fact. Administrative sloth and indifference.
The average citizen can relate many stories of sloth and indifference in their dealings with several of our institutions, in both public and private sector.
We appreciate the failing efforts of entities such as NISE but it would be similarly nice if we had cultural and attitudinal change, rather than cosmetic surgery.