Concerned that just over 50 per cent of the more than 900-strong prison population is people on remand, Government is making another effort to clear the backlog in court cases.
Today the Government in association with the National Centre for State Courts and the US Department of State, introduced a special two-day workshop where members of the local judiciary will be able to get a better understanding of the Goodyear Hearings/Maximum Sentence Indications and Plea Agreements.
It is hoped that this will result in justice being administered by early and timely disposition of cases through more efficient and effective practices, while at the same time ensuring fairness and transparency.
Goodyear Hearings/Maximum Sentence Indications and Plea Agreement allows for the defendants to enter a guilty plea with the defence requesting an indication of the likely maximum sentence.
During the opening ceremony of the workshop at the Radisson Aquatica Resort this morning, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson again lamented the backlog in criminal cases.
“One of the solutions which is being proposed is the basis of this workshop, the idea of affording the opportunity to accept a guilty plea. The problem is, of course, it is not that simple, there are rules and procedures which have to be followed to ensure that the guilty plea will withstand appellate scrutiny, and there are all sorts of areas in which one can make a mistake,” he said.
“I want to think of this as a solution-oriented two-day workshop. I think we tend to put ourselves in a bit of a bind when we are problem-solving, but I want to start on the solution end because we know what the problem is. The problem is that we have got too many people on remand and at a prison that has been constructed to hold 1,200 people,” he added.
Attorney General Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite said at the beginning of this year the late Director of Public Prosecution Charles Leacock instructed his office to urgently undertake a number of things in an effort to reduce the worrying backlog of cases in the criminal justice system.
Brathwaite described the workshop as a critical component of the measures being undertaken to assist in arresting that issue, adding that so far a number of steps have been taken and more are on the way.
“We have a situation where more than 50 per cent of the persons at [Her Majesty’s Prison] Dodds are presently on remand. If there are 900 [prisoners] there are probably about 500 of them on remand. It is not a tidy situation at all. Charles was convinced that many of those individuals on remand if afforded the opportunity, would actually accept some kind of a plea. In that regard, I have therefore set about taking a paper to Cabinet and have indeed, a draft Bill somewhere in my office. The Bill was influenced a lot by the Trinidad and Tobago legislation,” explained Braithwaite.
Pointing out that he was aware that the judges, prosecutors and lawyers would require continuous training, Brathwaite gave the assurance that Government and members of the judiciary were eager to “address this burning issue of the backlog in the criminal justice system”.
He reported that the abolishment of preliminary enquires was already accomplished, adding that work was currently being carried out to ensure the recording of interviews was mandatory.
“We are going to move ahead with the practice direction . . . and I think the other box that we need to tick is that we need to have some criminal procedure rules,” he said, pointing out that some models were currently being examined.
Brathwaite said the number of judges would also be increased soon, given that “the number of cases we have in the criminal justice system, the present number of judges just cannot get it done”.
“So, we need to have some additional resources in that regard. Even with continuous exercises, the numbers are telling you that the present number of judges, with the best will in the world, unless they are able to work 24-hours a day, that we need some additional resources in that regard,” added Brathwaite.
US Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Linda Taglialatela highlighted the need for the continued strengthening of the judicial system, saying it was necessary to ensure the security of residents in the region.
She said she hoped at the end of the workshop Barbados would be able to realize a reduction in case backlogs, a reduction in trauma suffered by victims of crime, a reduction in anxiety suffered by defendants and savings in cost of valuable resources.