A new measure is to go before Parliament that will make provisions for plea bargaining in the court system.
Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson today announced that Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite “has provided leadership in drafting and forwarding for discussion the Plea Discussion Bill which, if enacted, will bring into Barbados the concept of plea bargaining”.
It was not immediately clear how much work has been done on the measure or when it would be taken to the House for discussion.
However, the Chief Justice told the opening of the 2016-2017 legal year this morning that the legislation was meant to help clear the rising backlog of cases in the High Court.
The idea was first mooted by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart at a news conference at Illaro Court in June, where he suggested that Government might have to amend the legislation to institute a regime of plea bargaining in order to ease the logjam.
With pressure mounting on the Supreme Court to clear this backlog, the Chief Justice today called on the Stuart Government to appoint three additional judges and a replacement for Appeals Court Judge Sherman Moore who retired from the bench a year ago.
Sir Marston disclosed that there were 172 inmates on remand at HMP Dodds awaiting their day in the High Court since the enactment of the Magistrates’ Court (Amendment) Act 2016 almost two months ago to remove the process of preliminary inquiries with a view to easing the accumulation of cases in the lower court.
The Chief Justice said the backlog had since shifted from the Lower Court to the High Court, which meant the judicial system continued to experience continuous delays in dealing with criminal cases.
“The problem with that is it simply shifts the backlog. Instead of sitting and awaiting PI [preliminary inquiries], inmates are sitting and waiting for a trial judge. We still have a list of about 172 cases of persons who are on remand and who would have had preliminary inquiries but who are awaiting trial,” Sir Marston told the gathering which included High Court Judges; Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite; Director of Public Prosecutions Charles Leacock and other members of the legal fraternity.
He said the solution lay in additional resources, hence his call for more judges.
At present there are eight judges who sit on the bench in the Supreme Court, with two who are assigned the continuous assizes.
The Prime Minister had also revealed at the press conference the backlog of cases was so great that Sir Marston had requested permission for the appointment of three temporary judges.
“He [Sir Marston] sent a list of about 161 persons on remand at Dodds awaiting trial and he did not think that the backlog could be handled by the present complement of judges. The Chief Justice was careful to remind me that he can only account for the ones who are at Dodds, but there are many other people on bail awaiting trial as well and that this is an issue that we have to deal with,” Stuart said at the time.
During this morning’s service at The Cathedral Church of St Michael and All Angels, Dean the Very Reverend Dr Jeffrey Gibson based his sermon on mercy and reconciliation.
This did not escape Sir Marston who said: “The idea that every offence should not be visited with punishment, but can actually be visited with an attempt to restore some sense of dignity to the victim and some sense of responsibility to the accused must be explored.”