Amidst calls by women’s rights advocates here for speedier trial of sexual assault cases, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson today said the prosecution of such offences in Barbados was being “marred” by the length of time it took for these matters to go before the court.
“What happens is that by the time we manage to get through the investigation, the jargon and the preliminary inquiry and get the matter to a trial judge, years have elapsed. So, a child who is abused at [the age of] 13 finds themselves at 21 or 22 trying to remember what happened eight or nine years ago,” he said at the opening ceremony of a two-day consultation on sexual offence cases, hosted by the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) Project at the Courtyard by Marriott this morning.
Discussion on the vexing issue of sexual assault cases was renewed late last month after a victim of an alleged attempted rape shared her experience with Barbados TODAY.
The woman had made an impassioned plea to the authorities not to allow rapists to get off scotch free and suggested that the country needed to “wake up” to the seriousness of her concerns.
Adding her voice to calls by women’s rights activists for an official register of sex offenders, she had also lamented the slow pace of hearing rape cases, complaining that it was not unusual for three years to go by before such
cases were heard by the court.
The Chief Justice today revealed that under the JURIST Project, it was expected that new guidelines would be established for advancing the prosecution of these types of offences.
Sir Marston also spoke to the need to establish support mechanisms for victims following the trial of sexual assault cases.
“That person still has to go back into society and to live, sometimes with the family; sometimes it may be someone from the village who was our neighbour,” he said.
Sir Marston told the regional participants that support mechanisms were necessary also because in some instances the perpetrators lived in close proximity to the victims, and would be released back into the same neighbourhood, a point raise by the alleged attempted rape victim who spoke to Barbados TODAY, when she complained that Barbadians on a whole were much too soft of the perpetrators of such crimes.
The JURIST Project is funded by the Canadian government, and Canadian High Commissioner Marie Legault said the guidelines developed through the consultation were part of a bigger envelope that was being executed by the Caribbean Court of Justice.
She explained that the JURIST Project was working with judiciary in the Caribbean to support respective efforts to improve court administration and strengthen the ability to resolve cases effectively and fairly.
“The aim of the project is to support the modernization and strengthening of the court system’s processes and services, and to equip judicial officers and court staff with the skills and competencies necessary to deliver justice in a fair and good manner,” Legault said.