Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson is hoping that by taking a shot at drug addiction he can help reduce the number of gun crimes here.
Sir Marston this morning announced a series of measures aimed at overhauling the judicial system, speed up the administration of justice and reduce crime.
One of his proposed plans is to make greater use of the drug treatment court with a view to shrinking the market for illegal substances, which he linked to rising gun violence.
The chief justice told members of the judiciary attending this morning’s opening of the new legal year that the court’s aim was to wean addicts off drugs and return them to society as productive citizens.
Therefore, he said, if the programme is successful it will reduce the demand for illegal drugs and, hopefully, the related drug wars.
“We have recently seen a spike in violent crime committed with firearms, and there is little doubt that much of the use of firearms is fuelled by the drug trade. We in the court join all right thinking Barbadians in deprecating the violence which has caused so many of us to cower in fear. We will continue in our own little way to reduce the market by reducing the number of addicts and we can only hope that this will in turn reduce some of the violence which we are witnessing,” he stressed.
The chief justice also announced an operational review of the Supreme Court’s Registration Department with the intention to “eliminate some of the duplication of effort in the registry” and to retrain staff, although he did not go into details.
Another key plank of Sir Marston’s overhaul is the expansion of the mediation project which seeks to resolve non-complicated civil cases in particular, before they get to a judge.
He said the programme has had modest success, but it needed greater buy-in from lawyers.
“Although there have not been much publicity about the modest successes, cases continue to be settled through mediation. I use the word modest because there have not been nearly as much buy-in to the project as we would wish. Lawyers still say that their clients want their day in court, meaning their day before a judge,” he said, going on to state that the Supreme Court hosted a session recently for members of the Barbados Bar Association in a bid to “combat this absence of enthusiasm” and push for more cases to be resolved by the parties before they go before the judge.
One of the primary concerns about the judicial system here is the pace at which the wheels of justice turn.
It was just last week that former Supreme Court judge Carlisle Greaves suggested that the court system was partially to blame for the increased levels of crime gripping the country.
Addressing a Rotary Club of Barbados South dinner meeting at the Accra Beach Hotel, Greaves said the judicial system was simply not moving fast enough in prosecuting cases, adding that “a man that is locked up is very unlikely to commit further crime”.
“Today is a funny night . . . I said that because today, with all the crime that is going on and the gun [related] killings and so on, everybody is probably asking the same question: Why is this happening and what are we going to do about it?” Greaves said as he opened his presentation on the topic Aspects of Judicial Management – the Barbados to Bermuda Experience, Speeding up the Process.
“I think this is well known throughout Barbados that we have an inefficient judiciary. This is debated almost daily. The highest courts for our land [Caribbean Court of Justice] have criticized us repeatedly. I am not saying this as a criticism of our judiciary but as a realization that, for whatever reason it is inefficient,” he said.
Sir Marston today said Barbados was not the only jurisdiction with such a problem, noting that the United States, with far more resources, was struggling too.
However, he announced changes to the working hours of judges, taking at least one off the roster each month to allow them more time to write their judgments. This, he said, would help reduce the worrying backlog.
“I have from April this year instituted a de-rostering of High Court judges. It’s a directive for judges to take the time to write a decision. Two of the judges have said to me the de-rostering programme had actually given the opportunity to think,” he said, adding that judges could not be expected to find the time to resolve 15 to 20 applications per day, write decisions and still have time for life and family.
Sir Marston said the Court of Appeal, of which he is chairman, would also be afforded the same opportunity to write its decisions.
Meanwhile Acting Attorney General Michael Lashley told Barbados TODAY on the sidelines of the church service marking the opening of the legal year, that magistrates would be given more powers to impose heavier prison times as part of legislative changes to fight spiralling crime. Currently, magistrate can only impose sentences of up to five years for certain crimes.