If Director of Public Prosecutions Charles Leacock, QC, were to have his way, no one accused of murder or other very serious crime would be able to remain free on bail pending his or her trial “unless it is a very exceptional case”.
The few exceptions, he said in an interview with Barbados TODAY, as public debate raged on the contentious issue, are cases involving, for example, “a very elderly person or a very young person like a schoolboy with a very appropriate defence like self-defence”.
“I agree you can’t keep people [on remand] indefinitely, and those cases should be fast-tracked; but we must set up an administrative way of dealing with it rather than just giving everybody bail for murder,” he said.
The island’s top prosecutor spoke against the backdrop of citizens raising considerable concern about murder accused in particular committing more serious offences while out on bail. Earlier this week, one such individual was brought before the courts on an additional murder charge.
Mr Leacock is on the same wavelength as the majority of Barbadians. For sometime now, the citizenry has felt that criminals are holding the country to ransom, and are somehow getting away with it. It also must be quite frustrating for the police.
Indeed, Mr Leacock has expressed the view that criminals for too long have not been feeling the full weight of the law, and the justice system must start sending a strong message that crime does not pay.
The reason why some murder accused are released on bail is the slow pace at which cases are currently moving through the justice system. Accused have the right to a speedy trial. In cases where they have been on remand for years, they can apply for bail which is allowable under the Bail Act.
Arguing strongly against bail for murder accused, Mr Leacock said: “We don’t necessarily have to review the Bail Act to do that. What we have to do is to get the judges to be less willing to grant bail to persons, because what experiences have shown are that it is quite problematic.”
DPP Leacock’s stance has the support of the magistracy. A few magistrates, speaking earlier this week on condition of anonymity with Barbados TODAY, agreed the slow pace of the justice system was the major contributing factor.
“The system needs to improve so that everybody gets tried in a quick and reasonable time,” one magistrate said.
In cases where bail is given, he suggested that compulsory electronic tagging which is used in other jurisdictions, could be introduced here.
“That would put the community more at ease knowing that people who are on bail are monitored, and the authorities would know where the accused are,” he said.
Further, he suggested that “if the tag is tampered with, it should be an offence as well”. This is an excellent idea worth considering!
There has been enough talk about the problems affecting the efficiency of the justice system. What is urgently needed now is decisive action to provide solutions. The delays are not only affecting the disposal of criminal cases, but also matters which have an impact on business and the economy.
The situation has already drawn criticism from the Caribbean Court of Justice, our highest appellate court. We believe that the issue has reached the stage where it should be treated as an emergency. An inefficient court system can have the effect of undermining public and investor confidence.
Government should set up an independent task force, for example, to address the issue and recommend solutions. The task force could comprise members of the judiciary itself, the Barbados Bar Association, the Royal Barbados Police Force, and a representative or two from civil society.
Even though Government is grappling with serious financial challenges, a way must be found to provide the necessary resources to fix the problem. We look forward to a definitive statement from Government, including a plan of action to be implemented within a specific time frame.
Ours is a society founded upon the principle of the rule of law. An efficient justice system is therefore indispensable for the smooth and orderly running of Barbados. Justice must not only be done; it must also be seen to be done!