Prominent criminal lawyer Andrew Pilgrim, QC, has made a strong case for greater consistency in sentencing and more timely trials, arguing that the system is broken and in need of urgent care.
Pilgrim again criticized the lengthy delays in the court process – something for which the Caribbean Court of Justice has lambasted Barbados, charging that these delays rendered punishment meaningless.
“It must be rectified if there is any justice. The guilty are punished, the innocent are released and if it takes you five years or more to punish the guilty or to release the innocent, your justice system is a complete failure,” the outspoken attorney claimed.
“Sentencing no longer works in our system at all, our system more focuses on bail, so that members of the public and members of the press . . . we focus on when a person gets charged.”
He pointed to the recent remand of Maurice Sandiford, 51, who was sent to prison for four days for the possession of a “five-bag” of marijuana.
Pilgrim contended that the punishment did not fit the crime, as the possession of the non-trafficable quantities for personal use was a minor offense.
He also made reference to the St Michael trio of young men who were recently remanded to prison until February 1 for shooting a police constable during a drug bust in Storey Hill, Codrington, St Michael.
“People take so long to get to trial that we forget. These boys who were charged, they are not going to be tried before Barbados is 55. So, it just kind of lose track of the fact that our system is failing to punish people in a timely fashion; therefore, the system is not helping with what we perceive as the problems with people’s behavior.
“The very justice system that should be trying to control people’s behavior and send messages about punishment is not doing that because it is taking too long to get people punished or acquitted,” Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY.
He said there were obvious steps that could be taken to turn things around, including increasing the number of judges and the introduction of plea bargaining. However, he claimed there was a lack of will because these measures were not politically expedient.
“It doesn’t get you votes to increase the number of judges, it doesn’t get you votes to introduce plea bargaining legislation; these things don’t get you votes [so] it is not going to be a priority until society is regarded as being in total disarray in terms of the criminal justice system. I don’t know what we are going to wait on to happen before we think something has to be done and that it needs urgent attention.
“We have to do an entire review of the system to see why it works and why certain aspects don’t work,” he insisted.
Pilgrim also recommended the issuing of transcripts, which he said took too long to be issued or entered into the system; outlining the functions of a Magistrate and assistance and training for police officers.
And he was particularly strong in his criticism of the law that limits the number of High Court judges, describing it as “ridiculous”.
“We have a law that says we cannot have more than the eight High Court judges at present. Can you imagine, a law that says that you cannot have more of something that is good? That’s how ridiculous we are in 2016. We have a law that says we are not allowed to have another High Court judge without changing the law,” he lamented.