Those Barbadians who pay little or no attention to what goes on in the Lower House of Parliament do themselves an injustice. Sometimes those who speak in that lofty Chamber do Barbados an injustice. And very occasionally we are enlightened from the floor of Parliament on the ways in which our people are done an injustice.
The past week has been an interesting one in Parliament, specifically during debate on the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) (Amendment) Bill, 2017, and the Cultural Industries Validation Bill. Indeed, there have been elements of ethos, pathos and logos that would not have gone unnoticed on the discerning listener to both debates.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, perhaps by virtue of his national position and his professional calling, has felt inclined to bash the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) for its strident criticism of the judicial process in Barbados. Most of the of the CCJ‘s criticisms relate to the lengthy time it takes in Barbados for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Barbadians to get justice in the law courts. If the CCJ’s assessment of the judiciary in Barbados was an examination critique, that court would receive an ‘A’ with distinction. The sloth in our judicial system is an embarrassment of miasmic proportions. The CCJ might have articulated it, but those waiting for cases to be adjudicated or started after being in the system for upwards of a decade have been suffering long before there was a CCJ.
But rather than stay silent – not an unfamiliar trait – on an indefensible issue, Prime Minister Stuart would seek to criticize the CCJ for harping on this cancer festering in our judicial process. This is what Mr Stuart had to say. “I do not get too overwhelmed with what the CCJ says. We do not rejoice that there are delays in the system – there are delays and we have to deal with them – but I sometimes think Barbados is being unnecessarily slandered by some of the reports I see.”
And Mr Stuart went further: “When you read decisions coming out of the Privy Council, evidence of horrible delays are uncovered in CARICOM countries that have not signed onto the CCJ. It handles that issue of delays much less salaciously than it seems to be the case of how it is handled in the Caribbean. These things are dealt with in one sentence, two at most, without any administering of rebuke or any holding up to ridicule.”
But it seems Mr Stuart has missed the point or in his nationalistic, prime ministerial fervour, is deliberately sidestepping the kernel. The CCJ cannot be salacious if it is accurate in its assessments. What happens in countries that are not signatories to the CCJ does not make the endemic sloth in those that are signatories any less injurious to persons who suffer as a result of a poorly operational system.
And Mr Stuart needs to be “overwhelmed” by what the CCJ says. The CCJ must continue to “slander” Barbados’ judiciary. The CCJ must continue to highlight the inefficiencies in Barbados’ judicial system. The CCJ must continue to berate those with responsibility for the judiciary and those in the seat of power if that is what it takes to light a fire under them as one possible pathway to improvement.
It is not good enough for the political directorate and those in charge of the judiciary to state, perfunctorily, that they have to deal with the situation or that they have to find ways to alleviate the problem. When? How? At what juncture? There are many Barbadians buried at Westbury Cemetery and Coral Ridge who are still awaiting decisions from the law courts while Mr Stuart remains “not too overwhelmed”.
And if Mr Stuart wants to locate one of the many sources of the problems in the judiciary, he simply has to look across the floor of the Chamber and be briefed by his parliamentary colleague and MP for St James Central, Mr Kerrie Symmonds. He had this to say about attorneys-at-law yesterday from the floor of Parliament. “There are some colleagues of mine at the Bar who have made delays a tool of the process. It is part of their craft. They come to court in order to delay the process and put it off.” And while this occurs, Barbadians are kept on remand for six, seven or more years without trial for criminal matters. Accident victims are denied compensation for ten, 15, 20 or more years in delayed civil actions.
But with Mr Stuart having been a practising attorney of more than three decades standing, we believe that Mr Symmonds’ indictment of his colleagues was not breaking news to him. We feel it is now incumbent on Mr Stuart to be equally vociferous in his condemnation of his legal colleagues for this conduct exposed by Mr Symmonds, as he was willing to criticize the CCJ for speaking the truth.
And during debate on the Cultural Industries Validation Bill, St Michael South East MP Santia Bradshaw queried the bestowing of a Gold Crown of Merit on Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley for his contribution to sports, youth and the execution of CARIFESTA. Miss Bradshaw argued that Mr Lashley was honoured on November 30 for simply doing the job for which he is being paid by taxpayers. And she has a point. But this is behaviour not unique to one side of the Chamber. What we would suggest, though, is that if Prime Minister Stuart or Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson could finally fix the sad state of affairs that is our judiciary we would not be overwhelmed if they too were granted the Gold Crown of Merit.