There was some seemingly forward movement in the effort to address the backlog of cases in the judicial system of Barbados. There was training conducted in preparation for video evidence to become admissible and a regular part of cases where the accused opt to plead guilty.
While I am happy about the attention being given to clear the backlog of cases at all levels of the judicial system, I cannot help but be concerned about the overall direction that our crime pattern is taking. Addressing the administrative issues in our judicial system is important but we also have to be willing to take a more holistic look at attitudes and the causes of crime.
Let us start with attitudes first. I heard an audio clip in the broadcast media and saw quotations in the print media attributed to the Chief Justice of Barbados. In them, the suggestion seemed to be made that the Chief Justice was not sure on the status of legislation that made videotaping evidence mandatory. Conversely, the media reported that Andrew Pilgrim was able to offer the correct information about the law.
Individuals who have interfaced with the criminal justice system report that one of the major challenges is the attitude of people with whom they come into contact. There are regular complaints from the manner of police officers carrying out searches and arrests to the attitudes and approaches of magistrates and judges. Due to the regulations in our system, it is difficult to offer critiques of judicial officers but I must admit to having paused when the comments attributed to the Chief Justice appeared in the media.
Justice and the management of criminality are far from just another job. In order to reduce the backlog of cases currently in the system, legislation to move the functioning of the various components must be forthcoming. As important will be the change in the approach of all the people who are operating at the various levels of the judiciary. They will have to see themselves as specialists and gatekeepers of the national peace.
The old colonial mentality of seeing people who do wrong as deserving of eternal punishment and suffering is also to be displaced in order for our judicial system to realize heightened effectiveness. At one time, the belief was that wicked people only did bad things. We are now far enough on to realize that some of the worst people often know well how to stay within the law and that sometimes the people who get caught up in criminality are really victims of circumstance.
For a few years, we have been referring to the study which revealed the levels of functional illiteracy in the prison population of Barbados. There was also the study which pointed to the prison population having attended a few particular secondary schools. I would add that largely, the prison demographic compares in terms of poverty levels, family type, parental involvement and access to intervention and opportunity.
The adults who end up in the criminal justice system are largely the juveniles who have been disruptive in school. In many cases, they are the ones who have been encountered in our very inefficient social service – either in welfare programmes or needing probation reports or living in homes where circumstances have been drawn to the attention of the Child Care Board.
It seems to me that even as we focus on efforts to streamline court functioning that we should also look at social interventions to alleviate the root causes of crime. This is the long-term solution to the problem. In the short term, while we are looking at the administrative side, we must bear in mind the several reprimands we have received from the Caribbean Court of Justice. Nobody can be unsure as to the status of our laws or our actions moving forward. Justice must not only be done in Barbados but seen to be done – and competently so.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)