Opposition Leader Mia Mottley Tuesday suggested that Government’s move to abolish preliminary hearings as proposed under the Magistrate’s Court (Amendment) Bill 2016 may be a little too late, though she voiced support for the move.
In her contribution to the debate on the legislation tabled by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite aimed at improving the delivery of justice, Mottley told the post-lunch session in the House of Assembly, the measure was a “new-old” initiative that was “welcomed in one sense, but deeply troubling in another”.
“Because this is an initiative that was first discussed about ten years ago, that has taken so long to come here,” she told her parliamentary colleagues.
Mottley, a Queens Counsel, argued that the reform of the criminal justice system in common law jurisdictions had gone way beyond the removal of preliminary hearings and Barbados was now in fact behind its regional neighbours.
“What we now have in most jurisdictions, in jurisdictions that traditionally looked to Barbados for leadership – like St Lucia and the OECS [Organization of Eastern Caribbean States], like Turks and Caicos – we now have in those jurisdictions something called sufficiency hearings.”
Explaining how that system works, Mottley said it saved significant time and resources.
“The judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence to move forward and there is generally the framework for a plea and direction hearing, so if the person pleads guilty . . . the court then takes action to be able to deal with a timeline for sentencing. If the person does not plead guilty the judge then case manages.”
Noting that case management in the context of Barbados was more widely used in civil cases, the Barbados Labour Party leader pointed out that it was common in the rest of the criminal justice world to expedite the hearing of cases.
“So that if there is problem with the admissibility of evidence, the judge deals with that and looks pass the overall case management. So that when you get to the hearing before the jury the case goes right along,” she explained.
Mottley said the fact that the legislation took so long to reach the House called into question the Government’s leadership on critical national issues.
“What is coming forth are things that are taking too long to move forward. The executive must be nimble of foot and sensitive to where the country finds itself strategically and what are the new developments within the country to determine whether that which was appropriate a decade ago is it still now appropriate ten years later,” the Opposition Leader stressed.
She added that “Barbados must not delight in its 50th year coming at the back of the pack”, and called for the country to take an all-embracing and inclusive approach to remedy the prevailing ills in the justice system.