The judicial system is grinding to a halt and additional judges are needed to speed up the court process and save the public from the agony of seeing people charged with murder freed on bail, according to former Attorney General Dale Marshall.
“Our reality is this, we have a number of judges who will hear civil matters and who will also hear criminal matters. I think that the time has come firstly where we need to increase the number of judges on the bench,” Marshall told Barbados TODAY last night, saying it was the only way to clear the backlog of cases that has plagued the judicial system.
Marshall stressed that Barbados risked being accused of human rights violations if prisoners were held on remand for lengthy periods without trial. But he said there were many obstacles to the completion of court cases within a reasonable period.
The recent release on bail of murder accused Sean Watson caused a public outcry. Watson was granted $250,000 bail after being held on remand for almost four years for the 2012 murder of his estranged wife, Nicole Harrison-Watson.
Criminal attorney Andrew Pilgrim later explained that the accused killer was entitled to bail under the Bail Act and that the amount of time spent on remand awaiting trial was one of the main factors which resulted in bail being granted to people charged with murder.
Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite had also pointed to the Prison Act, which states that incarcerated persons are entitled to have their sentence reviewed by the Privy Council every four years.
Marshall said it was wrong for an individual to be confined to prison without giving bail in circumstances where the accused was being deprived of a timely trial.
“If an individual receives a fair trial in a short period of time, then the issue is fairly simple . . . you are either found guilty, in which case you remain in prison, or you are freed of the charges,” Marshall said.
The Member of Parliament for St Joseph stressed that the delays affected both civil and criminal cases, but the problem extended beyond the area of the court and into law enforcement.
“More than the judicial system, there are also difficulties in terms of the readiness of the police to prosecute an individual, and that goes hand in hand with it,” he said.
He noted that some criminal matters were being adjourned for extended periods while evidence was being gathered and files were being prepared. This, he said, was further compounded by the slowly moving judicial system. “Therefore an accused finds himself on remand in Dodds for an extraordinarily long period without a fair trial.”
The Opposition Barbados Labour Party MP added that a rise in the number of judges must also be accompanied by adequate resources.
“We also need to give those judges the tools that they need in order to be able to dispense justice and to hear cases, both civil and criminal, in a very short while, a reasonable time.”
Marshall said members of the public were ‘justifiable concerned’ about the release on bail of accused killers, but there was no option but to follow the law. (GA)