During yesterday’s sitting of the District ‘A’ Magistrates’ Court, Magistrate Kristie Cuffy-Sargeant dismissed a robbery case that had been committed on April 8, 2012, and brought to court soon afterwards. The accused was a Jadai Junior Clarke of School Lane, Hall’s Road, St Michael and the complainant a Patrick King. Neither the innocence nor the guilt of Mr Clarke was established by either the prosecutor or the defence counsel. Mr King received no justice from the judicial system for the criminal complaint he had made some six years ago. And according to the details of the case, both accused and complainant had been attending court for the past six years.
So why did this happen? Simple. For over two thousand, one hundred and ninety days the investigator responsible for Mr King’s case and the supervisor(s) responsible for the investigator failed to produce the case file with the evidence related to the robbery charge to the Magistrates’ Court. Since the matter could not go on in perpetuity, defence counsel Andrew Pilgrim, QC, argued for a dismissal and Mrs Cuffy-Sargeant correctly acceded.
Over the years similar situations have occurred in other cases, inclusive of rape. There have been cases dismissed in the Magistrates’ Court where Barbadian women have been allegedly sexually violated, reports made, accused held and charged and the matters dismissed because the prosecution had no case files to start the proceedings. Therefore, victims have walked away from Coleridge Street having been violated twice – once by their actual rapists and secondly by the judicial system that failed them. Indeed, though the accused might be pleased to have the case dismissed for lack of prosecution, he must live with the stigma of being pinpointed as a rapist and not having the opportunity to prove his innocence or guilt.
Perhaps when victims of rape, robberies and other heinous offences, or their families, start to take justice into their own hands because of the shameful failure of the judicial system, then and only then will authorities seek to bring an end to this national and systemic disgrace. Vigilante justice is abhorrent. But the history of such occurrences is rooted in the failure of judicial systems and a lack of confidence in those systems by the victims of circumstance.
We say all this within the context of a revelation by Prime Minister Mia Mottley in her recent mini Budget which has received little national comment. Miss Mottley is to be applauded for acknowledging the inefficiencies in the judicial system especially as it relates to the backlog of cases. She is again to be commended for her attempt to deal with it. But we suggest here that her focus might be in the wrong direction.
During her presentation on Monday, she indicated that three new judges would be appointed in the effort to solve the backlog of cases. Miss Mottley’s heart might be in the right place but she needs to examine this situation just a bit more closely. From intelligence received and from our observations, the problem might not necessarily be one of numbers but more of functionality and commitment among those cogs already in the judicial wheel.
There is a problem of functionality within the Royal Barbados Police Force that is leading to case files remaining on desks and in cabinets, or elsewhere, for six, seven, sometimes ten years, and not reaching the law courts. In some instances, the files are reportedly never prepared. Therefore, an increase of judges will not solve the backlog of cases if there are no cases ready to be heard. The only recourse – especially for magistrates – will be to clear the backlog by way of dismissals for lack of prosecution. And that is a worst-case scenario for most concerned, especially the victims of crime.
Perhaps, Miss Mottley, her Attorney General Dale Marshall, or their designate, need to sit down with the Commissioner of Police and find the best way to get to the root of the problem. Is it a question of overwork, laziness or indifference on the part of the initial investigator to prepare case files? Is it a case of incompetence on the part of supervisors or their nit-picking on minor details in files that leads to them not reaching the courts? Is it a situation of certain files growing legs and walking out of police stations or the Court Prosecutors Office? Is this failure to produce proper paperwork for the courts the tail-end of poor recruitment and promotions? What it the root cause? What is leading to paid professionals, all with secondary and some with tertiary education, being unable to produce files for the court in a timely fashion? The Commissioner of Police must be held to account on this.
Miss Mottley, Mr Marshall, or their designate, must also look at time spent on the job by magistrates and judges in circumstances where there are matters that can be heard. Are these law officers giving full value for money in terms of the volume of cases they hear on a daily basis and the time actually spent on the job? And what about judgments? Are they writing judgments in a timely manner or with the alacrity one would expect with their training and status? And what about those cases where the files are available but the cases are still not being called? Some attention must also be paid to requested adjournments. Are these being abused by attorneys to boost their fees or to secure payment before trial? After all, with the use of paper committals attorneys stand to make less money at the Magistrates’ courts.
The Prime Minister must ensure that in hiring more, the state is not merely paying more salaries for enhanced inefficiencies.