Once again, it’s time for the annual end-of-year Christmas wish list and/or commentary. Santa Claus has consistently failed to deliver so I now address these wishes to the Almighty.
What would we like?
1. Meaningful and honest dialogue between the Bench, the Bar and the Registration Department is a staple on this list. However, I’ve arrived at the position that not only should there be substantive dialogue but that there should also be some attempt at consensus and not just talking across a table at one another with no intention of altering one’s position to arrive at a compromise that benefits the administration of justice and the people of Barbados as a whole.
2. While we are at it, an agreement to apply the law and the rules would be great. For example, I and several other attorneys would like someone in the Registry to point out where in the Family Law Act or rules or anywhere else for that matter, does it say that a divorcee cannot get the decree absolute (document showing that they are divorced) unless any order, no matter how unrelated, is filed by the attorney. Here’s a hint: nowhere does it say that. I also happen to know that more than one attorney has set out in great detail (and in writing) for the Registry why the position they have taken is contrary to the law. Refer to paragraph 1.
3. Scheduling of court matters continues to be a perennial problem. Not only as it relates to the time one wastes standing around but also basic things like arranging for a replacement judge when the substantive office-holder goes on leave. A judge or magistrate, for that matter, does not just get up one morning and go on leave or retire. Their vacation/leave has to be applied for, approved and advertised in the Official Gazette. At no time during that process does it occur to the powers that be that you should arrange for a replacement to act in the position? How does this affect the average litigant? Well, you put on your court clothes and turn up at the Supreme Court to find a note on a door saying that all matters for Court X have been adjourned and please speak to the clerk or come back on some date months later. One word: backlog. We have to do better.
4. As a spin-off of item 2, who thinks it is a good idea to send a judge to hear Assize (criminal) matters for more than a year while the civil and family matters assigned to them go into abeyance? Same word: backlog. Can we go back to the system where whatever judge the matter turned up before, actually heard and determined it unless it was a trial in progress?
5. I repeat this paragraph verbatim: “No more than 15 matters per day scheduled before a single chamber judge. This is not magistrate’s court. I would appreciate a judge being less harassed, au fait with the documents on the file which would lead to quicker and better ex tempore decisions and the reduction of usage of court time and repeat attendance for simple chamber matters.” By extension, can we have at least quicker ex tempore decisions? We only need decisions on basic points in writing if anyone is planning on appealing. Most litigants don’t care about challenging arcane points of law that they don’t / don’t care to / will never understand, nor do they plan to pay for lawyers to challenge arcane points of law.
6. We need a maintenance court that does not share its time, personnel or resources with other courts. There is no reason why children should be left to suffer for years on end.
7. Centralized magistrates’ courts. That would also reduce the time wasted because a lawyer gets stuck at the Supreme Court in Bridgetown and cannot make it to the magistrate’s court matter which must then be adjourned. One cannot “pop out” to St. Joseph or Christ Church or [insert any far-flung parish here] and get back in time. Word of the day: backlog.
8. The Supreme Court website has not improved. If you want a searchable index or an index by subject matter, you should create it yourself. Even Google cannot find the cases.
9. A shorter turnaround time at Corporate Affairs is necessary. The Minister of Commerce etcetera thinks that an application for registering a company can be done in two working days. Somewhere else, perhaps, but most certainly not here. Furthermore, even basic things like filing notices of change of directors or address take an age. Clients think you’re lying when weeks later you say that something is not ready yet.
10. Can someone fix the Corporate Affairs website? The following message is displayed when access is attempted: “Dangerous Website Blocked…This is a known dangerous website. It is recommended that you do NOT visit this site. The detailed report explains the security risks on this site…Visit Symantec to learn more about phishing and internet security.” Please and thank you. Disclaimer: perhaps my antivirus is special and if so feel free to ignore.
11. The great success story is the “industrial cleaning crew”. They came last year and guess what? The court will be closed for cleaning from December 26, 2016 until January 3, 2017. The Registrar deserves a pat on the back. And that would be a positive note to end on.
Merry Christmas and the greatest of blessings to you and yours!
(Alicia Archer is an attorney-at-law in private practice)