The Barbados judiciary has received yet another bashing from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) for the length of time it is taking to hear and conclude cases.
In delivering judgment in a land dispute that had been before the courts of Barbados for 27 years, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) today said the continued long delays were deplorable.
“Regretfully, we are forced to comment once more on the excessive delay that characterizes many cases coming to us from Barbados,” the judging panel of the Trinidad-based court said as it ruled in the case of Timothy Walsh and Stephen Ward, Bjorn Bjerkham and Nature’s Produce Inc. that had been before the courts since 1988
“This type of delay imposes hardship on the litigants . . . The delay also reflects adversely on the reputation and credibility of the civil justice system as a whole, and reinforces the negative images which the public can have of the way judges and lawyers perform their roles. The unfortunate frequency of our lament suggests that the problem is systemic.”
The CCJ contended that the consistent need for the court to repeat its disapproval of the delays in the system made the situation “extremely deplorable”.
“Reaction can no longer be put off. This is an aspect of the judicial role for which there should be accountability. We urge the judiciary to take steps to address the problem of delay in the judicial process and ensure that citizens enjoy the benefit of the constitutional promise of a fair and expeditious resolution of disputes,” it added.
In this particular case, the regional court was also critical of two of the judges who heard the appeal at the local level.
Describing the situation as a sorry affair, it said Justices of Appeal Sandra Mason and Sherman Moore (then Acting Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal) should have recused themselves from the case when it was before the Court of Appeal.
The judges’ failure to recuse themselves was one of the grounds of appeal for the defence in the case in which the CCJ dismissed an appeal brought by Walsh, an Australian-born farmer residing in Barbados, and ordered Ward to sell his 125-acre property to Bjerkham for $1.5 million, less the deposit of $50,000, together with interest at six per cent from April 24, 1998 until the date of payment.
Ward had agreed to sell the plantation to Bjerkham, but Walsh, who had been farming portions of the property for about two years, had argued that he did work and spent money on the plantation because he expected to be the purchaser, based on representations made to him by Ward.
The High Court ordered that the plantation be conveyed to Walsh on the basis that he had partially performed an oral contract of purchase, but that ruling was overturned at the court of appeal and the matter then went to the CCJ.
Walsh’s lawyer, Barry Gale QC had asked Mason and Moore to step aside in the appeal matter, based on a perceived bias against him. That application had been triggered by a series of events that took place in relation to another case [Roseal Services Limited vs Michael Challis et al] in which Gale also appeared before Moore, Mason and Justice Goodridge.
“We consider that although nothing turns on it, at least not in relation to this case, the judges in question should have recused themselves from hearing this appeal,” the CCJ concluded in its judgment.
“It is evident that throughout the hearing, there were several extremely sharp exchanges between the Bench and Mr Gale, QC. Mr Gale, QC characterized these exchanges as being demonstrative of ‘open and manifest hostility and antagonism (and on occasion rudeness)’ on the part of Justices of Appeal Moore and Mason. Having examined the transcript, it must be said that the tone and temper of the exchanges leave much to be desired,” the court stated.
“Under any circumstances, this was a sorry affair. It is fortunate that it has ended.”
Today’s judgment also set out guidelines for lawyers in Barbados in situations where a Court of Appeal judge is asked to recuse himself from hearing a case.
The CCJ recommended that an application should first be made to the individual judge or judges to step aside in a summary application made in chambers and be determined by the judge concerned.
“If the judge denies the application, then it may be renewed in open court before the entire appellate panel,” the court added.