There is a bigger mess on the island to be solved than the sewage outflow that obtains on the south coast. The abhorrent stench might not be as pungent but the effects have the capacity to be more far-reaching than what is gushing on to the streets in Christ Church.
Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim’s recent profane outburst in the Magistrate’s Court was utterly reprehensible. Conversely, his apology in the same court was highly commendable. But lest we allow this opportunity to slip, it is perhaps timely to examine not so much what was said, but why it was said. We do not have to go into details – these have been widely publicized – but it should be understood that somewhere in this scenario the word “frustration” must be at the core of not only Mr Pilgrim’s situation, but hundreds of other professionals and common folk living among us.
Mr Pilgrim has apologized because he is accountable. But, are our courts accountable to anyone? Are magistrates accountable to anyone? Is the Chief Magistrate accountable to anyone? Is the Commissioner of Police accountable to anyone? Is the Chief Justice of Barbados accountable to anyone? Is the Director of Public Prosecutions accountable to anyone? Do the players in our acutely challenged judicial system account to anyone? The answer is obviously ‘yes’, but the reality of the judicial mess that exists in Barbados suggests ‘no’.
We have a malfunctioning judiciary that is seemingly unfixable. We have had verbal solutions. We have had platitudes. We have had suggestions. We have had excuses. Now we have had profanities. And we dare say the latter might win the day if they only serve to demonstrate the frustration that the mess in the system can cause some of its officials.
We often wonder how can anyone sitting in the seat of the Commissioner of Police sleep at night when a seven-year-old case is dismissed for lack of prosecution because there is no case file for the matter to be heard. How can anyone reconcile a situation where a rape victim or a robbery victim receives no justice because the police officer dealing with the matter failed to produce a file to the court? Why are there no reported instances of disciplinary action – especially dismissal from the public service – taken against police officers who renege on their sworn duty to protect and serve society? Producing these files are an integral part of this remit. Why has this unforgivable blight never been publicly addressed by those in authority? Who apologizes to the victims of crime when their rapist or molester goes free because there is no file with which to work? What evidence is there that the Chief Magistrate, Chief Justice or anyone in authority puts pressure on the Commissioner of Police to deal with this organizational madness?
And what about the sentencing policy that exists within our courts? This is left to the discretion of our magistrates and judges who function within the perimeters of the legislation governing the particular offences they adjudicate. But we question the discretion applied to some of these matters. There appears to be no consistency in bail and sentencing policy. Indeed, this can be totally baffling at times. We observe persons being bailed for felony crimes, inclusive of murder, but others remanded for petty theft. We are aware of one documented case of a taxi driver being robbed, shot in the face, made visually deficient in one eye and the two perpetrators receiving a lenient sentence of four years – in actuality, three prison years. Then sentences of similar duration or more are sometimes meted out to persons for less heinous offences.
There are instances where persons have been on remand for more than two years without trial and that time is subsequently taken into consideration when they are sentenced. But what about those persons who are released without trial when their cases are dismissed for lack of prosecution or who have been found innocent? What about those persons whose remand time exceeds the number of years legally attached to their crimes? Being on remand in prison and serving a sentence in prison might have an administrative or legal difference on paper. But for the incarcerated, locked behind bars is locked behind bars. How does the judiciary propose to address this?
Proposals have been previously put forward for night court. Other proposals have been put forward to ease the backlog of cases that actually do reach the courts. In most instances, public sector offices work a minimum eight-hour day. Do our courts function in this manner? They are supposed to start at 9 a.m., do they? Are they still functioning at 5 p.m.? Or do we have a situation where the courts cannot work a full day because the breakdown in the system at the files production end means there is no work to be done?
Civil cases can drag through our courts for decades, with the expiration of the plaintiffs occurring long before decisions.
Mr Pilgrim apologized to the court a few days ago as he should have. But those responsible for supervising our system of justice from the point of complaint and investigation to adjudication, ought to be aware that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ordinary Barbadians in their homes and on the streets, directing similar daily profanities at them. And they have no apologies to make.