Prominent attorney Andrew Pilgrim has raised alarm about a piece of legislation, already approved in the House of Assembly, which removes the rights of accused persons to remain silent.
According to Pilgrim, the Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2014, which is set to go before the Senate on Friday, was last year pushed through the House without proper debate and public consultation and he argued it was an injustice.
“We always believe that just as in the US where a person is arrested, the first thing you tell them is ‘you have a right to remain silent and you don’t have to say anything if you don’t wish to; if you do say something we can take down the evidence and give it in evidence against you’ and that is traditionally implied in Barbados over the years.
“Our Constitution supports that position by saying when a person comes to court you can’t compel them to give evidence and it would seem odd to me if you were to change that law, just like that, by saying that if a person remains silent a jury or a judge could infer negative things,” he argued.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY on the steps of the Supreme Court, Pilgrim, a former president of the Bar Association, argued that the right to remain silent was a fundamental right that must not be tampered with, without the public’s consent.
“This is something that should be debated at length in the public. We should all have a say on this. It may be that people feel that this right to silence should go but there should be debate on it. It is not something that should be done quickly and quietly, it is something that should be a serious debate and with a Parliament so full of lawyers you would think that lawyers would want to debate on it.”
Official Parliament documents show that the Bill was approved by the Lower House on November 28, 2014.
On that day, Opposition MPs staged a walkout after the Speaker of the House snubbed a resolution from their leader, Mia Mottley, calling for debate on serious challenges at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Pilgrim urged the Oppposition to take up the issue that he insisted was critical to delivery of justice.
“At a time like this when everybody in Barbados seems to be silent, I think that this right to silence debate ought to happen quickly,” he said.
“If this comes up on Friday and goes through the Senate we will have this law change in Barbados where when you go into a police station you better say something. It is something really, really important, and I hope we get the opportunity to debate it.”