Abolish preliminary inquiries in the magistrates’ courts of Barbados.
That is what Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson wants the Freundel Stuart administration to do without further delay.
Addressing the opening of the 2014/2015 legal year this morning, Sir Marston said the existence of preliminary inquiries (PIs) had created a remand problem that has now taken on international implications.
“For some time now, we have been promised an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act, which would abolish PIs and that committals for indictable offences would be done entirely on paper,” Sir Marston told judicial officers, lawyers, and jurors.
Noting that such legislation exists in Antigua and has been tested before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, he said the Privy Council held there was no constitutional right to a PI.
“There is therefore no judicial reason why we still have PIs and the consequential remand problem. There is a reason why I bring this up now. Last Friday, I received a letter from one of our High Commissioners concerning a national of that country, who has been on remand [here] for 39 months,” he disclosed.
The Chief Justice noted that while his investigations showed that many of the adjournments were sought by the prisoner’s lawyer, he was of the view that it was not fair to the accused and the presiding magistrate to have to deal with a matter that could be easily resolved.
“Moreover, it now has international implications for the way Barbados is perceived. I am especially unhappy with the fact that this is perceived as a court-created problem, when it can be resolved with a stroke of the parliamentary draftsperson’s pen . . . or word processing programme,” asserted Sir Marston.
“So if I can end these remarks with a request, it is that the legislation abolishing PIs be enacted as soon as possible.”
He explained that when a person is charged with an indictable offence, the Criminal Procedure Act provides that an indictment can be issued only in two ways.
“Namely after a preliminary inquiry conducted by a magistrate, or by a voluntary bill issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions with the consent of a High Court judge. Neither of these is very satisfactory because both the magistrates and the judges are already overburdened. It means that magistrates have, as part of their 20,000 cases, preliminary inquires which they ought not to have,” declared the chief justice.
Minutes before he addressed the court, Sir Marston joined Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith, judges, magistrates, lawyers and court staff at a service at the St Mary’s Anglican Church, to mark the official opening of the legal year.
In his sermon, Society and the Judiciary Together: Let Us Live To Make Our People Free, Dean of the St Michael’s Cathedral Frank Marshall called for equity in the dispensing of justice.