The loss of life of loved ones under circumstances where homes, recreational facilities or workplaces have been criminally breached is an awful thing. When
the children we rear, the parents we love, the friends who complete us are fatally violated, the anguish wrought can only be truly appreciated by those left behind
to bear the pain.
We have become such civilized societies, and we have determined to ensure justice is not only done but seen to be done, that the dispensation of justice has over time become disproportionately in favour of the accused, the criminal-minded and the villain. In such circumstances we ask: whither the victims?
It is an irrefutable fact that the attention given to the rights of criminals is not similarly paid to the victims of crime and their families, post the stage of initial investigation and charge. There is such overwhelming evidence of this in practice, prosecutorial procedures and even our laws, that one wonders how civilized people –– in this case, Barbadians –– remain almost ovine-like without questioning
the existing status quo.
We have had some recent prison releases of persons who have committed capital offences and, ostensibly, paid their debt to society. In civilized societies,
or perhaps even more ethereal, Christian societies, we are frequently told we ought to forgive, even if we don’t forget. Though there is no specific biblical reference to it, we have also been nurtured on the tenet that “it is human to err, but it is divine to forgive”.
This all sounds wonderful, and our laws and legal practices tend, in many ways, to submit to this abstract. We have no quarrel whatsoever with the idea of forgiveness. It is something we frequently seek for ourselves. But unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of sensitivity and similar attention given to those permanently scarred by heinous criminality.
It is one of the ironies of jurisprudence that people who conduct themselves as though operating outside civilized society and who de-emphasize laws promoting civility by their conduct, then seek and claim shelter from the same laws
But those at the vanguard of protecting law-abiding citizenry and upholding all that is wholesome and good about civil society have become complicit
in the relegation of the rights of victims.
In the United States there exists several guarantees within the legal system to ensure the rights of victims, or, in the case of murder, the victims’ families are taken into consideration at every stage of the judicial process. Among the core rights of victims are that to be treated with fairness, dignity, sensitivity and respect; the right to submit a victim impact statement at sentencing, parole and other similar proceedings; the right to apply for crime victim compensation; the right to a speedy trial and other proceedings free from unreasonable delay; the right to be informed of proceedings and events in the criminal justice process, including the release or escape of the offender, among others.
Additionally, victims of crime are afforded, through legal requirement, notice of such things as pardon and commutation of sentences; parole releases; dismissal of charges; conditions of probation and parole; negotiated pleas and entry
of plea bargain; bail release; and final release from confinement, among other victim-centred rights.
In most, if not all American states, there is a notification system where victims or their families have a right to be kept abreast of criminal matters that have adversely, and in many instances, permanently marred their lives.
Now, switch to these few square miles we call Barbados where one would think –– because of our small size –– that similar rights could easily be enshrined in our laws and even more easily enforced. But what do we have?
We have a system where cases take an obscene length of time to be adjudicated. We have a system where cases are too frequently dismissed without the knowledge of the virtual complainants. We have a system where persons are bailed for serious crimes and their victims and families are not notified. We have a system where convicted murderers, rapists and other felons are released from incarceration,
and their victims and families read about it in newspapers like anyone else.
We have a system where the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution has the legal authority to discontinue a case or enter into a plea bargain with criminal accused without public explanation, or any input from the victim of the crime, or the next of kin. We have a system where sentences are commuted without notification of, or consultation with the families of the victims. We have a system where there are early releases from incarceration without explanation to the victims of crime, or their families. And it goes on and on. It is shambolic!
Sadly, when such infelicities are raised, they are often met with puerile, and as has occurred before, completely inane rejoinders that the laws of the island do not require such. Laws relate to people and if victims are left feeling twice violated –– by perpetrator and by the law –– then, to borrow from Charles Dickens’
Mr Bumble, the law is not just an ass; it is a willing one.