Recent rumblings within the legal fraternity have once again highlighted another aspect of the unfortunate state to which the judicial system in Barbados has seemingly descended.
Notwithstanding the frequent berating which our judiciary receives from the Caribbean Court of Justice, daily occurrences suggest that the morass which tended to relate mainly to systemic sloth, has become so endemic that sentencing, bail considerations and adjudications have now become infected.
There is a practice in Barbados for some in authority to circle the wagons, display pompous indignation, bury their heads in the sand or place fresh adhesive over festering sores whenever their offending underbelly is exposed. Those with contrived, would-be legacies to protect, often point out that existing structures have served Barbados well, despite the knowledge that improved practices could have served us even better.
Barbados’ judiciary is not in the state that it ought to be. From top to bottom, inefficiencies have become so engrained that changes for the better might lead some into withdrawal symptoms. The litany of woes is profuse and will not disappear as a result of speeches, promises, excuses or self-delusion.
That Barbados does not have a resident qualified forensic pathologist is basically criminal. Excuses offered of employment costs and limited occurrences of homicides in Barbados are puerile. It is curious that in the many years Dr Sree Ramulu performed this function in Barbados, no one moaned and groaned publicly about costs or the frequency of the requirement for his services. It seems that we have now progressed backwards or are improving worse.
But there is something even more sinister.
Our research has shown that never in the history of Barbados have murder cases taken such lengthy periods for evidence to be led in the Magistrates’ Courts. In some instances individuals have been charged for murder and not a shred of evidence has been led for periods exceeding five years in some instances. Surely, in such a tiny jurisdiction as Barbados where our annual murder rate still remains rather negligible, such lengthy delays are as ridiculous as a ninety-nine dollar bill.
Notwithstanding that the tardiness in the production of case files for court is an area with which the hierarchy of the Royal Barbados Police Force has battled for eons, and which has been cited by police prosecutors and magistrates in the lower courts, one must now question whether there is a link to be found among the endemic hebetude in the system, the absence of a resident forensic pathologist and the phenomenon of granting bail to murder accused.
Our Bail Act has not changed to any significant degree over the past decades and we can state with some authority that the granting of bail to murder accused in recent years, was totally unheard of two or three decades ago irrespective of clauses allowing it. So what has changed?
Perhaps Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, Director of Public Prosecutions Charles Leacock or acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith can provide the answer and prevent conjecture. What has really changed?
Could the volume of murder accused being granted bail be connected to the absence of a forensic pathologist? Since the forensic pathologist is the person legally qualified to give evidence of “cause of death” and there is none resident in Barbados, who has been performing post mortems on murder victims in recent years? Has Government been flying such a professional into and out of Barbados in every such scenario? That seems rather cumbersome.
And if persons have been charged for murder and those conducting post mortems are not qualified forensic pathologists, of what value is their subsequent evidence? Could the delays in starting these cases be related to the absence of such a resident professional? Are authorities being forced to grant bail to alleged killers because of this possible loophole in the process and the state’s inability to start cases? Have post mortems in recent years in cases already adjudicated in the island been conducted by general pathologists or forensic pathologists? And if they have been done by the former, what could be the status of those convictions on possible appeal?
These are questions for which we cannot provide the answers. But the authorities can, and they should.
But the recent bizarreness in our judicial system does not only extend to a capital offence. At the “lower” criminal rungs, the happenings in our courts have brought derision from both John Public and members of the Bar Association. Again, it relates to the granting of bail.
We have observed some first-time offenders being remanded or jailed for petty theft or possession of negligible amounts of cannabis, while others are granted bail for violent acts against women and other serious offences. If there is one place where there should be consistency, it is in our law courts. But it seems that consistency there is confined to perpetuating inconsistencies.
And there are those within the judicial system who are being affected by a mañana culture that has taken root.
Mr Griffith has complained publicly about his inability to promote officers and to deal with certain efficiencies as a result of a court case involving members of the Force. The lengthy time that it has taken for that case to be completed –– three years and counting –– would lead one to believe that the principals are not resident in Barbados but are instead scattered in Tibet, Tristan da Cunha or beyond.
But, this is what we do.