Magistrate Douglas Frederick has shown himself to be an excellent judicial officer. Indeed, from all reports, Mr Frederick is considered by many in and outside his circles as one of the very best in the country. He not only dispenses justice, but he has demonstrated a willingness to temper justice with mercy when required, and to be tough when the circumstances demand it.
Several of the utterances emanating from his court often give pointers as to how positive changes can be made in the lives of individuals and the measures that can be employed to avoid frequent visits to Coleridge Street. He has also spoken about ways to improve the processes of the court system.
Yesterday, Mr Frederick was at it again as he dismissed a case brought against well-known street character Anthony Fitzpatrick Lynch, familiarly referred to as Ninja Man. Mr Lynch had been on remand for almost a year on a charge of sacrilege committed at the St Michael Cathedral between August 6 and 8, 2017. As has become the rule and not the exception, following a series of adjournments the police prosecutor was not in a position to start the case because he had not received the file related to the matter from the investigator or his or her supervisor. Mr Frederick dismissed the case for lack of prosecution and Mr Lynch was allowed to walk free.
But what really also occurred was that a citizen of Barbados had been deprived of his freedom for almost a year on a charge brought by the state. He never got the opportunity to prove his innocence, the state never got the chance to prove his guilt, and most importantly, Mr Lynch left the precincts of the court and will not be compensated by the state for the time he spent in prison. Mr Lynch is not alone. Mr Frederick has had occasion to dismiss other cases related to robberies, rape, and other serious offences. In some instances, accused persons had been on remand for in excess of two years. They eventually got their “freedom” because no files on their cases reached the court and their matters were dismissed for lack of prosecution.
But a sentence served and time spent on remand are facilitated at the same location – a jail cell. And those who have been remanded for two, three and sometimes five years, are released and never receive compensation for the time spent behind bars without trial and the opportunity to prove their innocence. Whether one is a lawyer or not or have been exposed to legal training of any sort, there seems something fundamentally wrong with an individual being incarcerated for any period of time and being subsequently sent home without the opportunity to have his matter determined, simply because of the neglect of the parties responsible for depriving him or her of certain freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
In July commenting on Mr Lynch’s situation, Mr Frederick had this to say. “What you have to do when you have a person like this who is vulnerable, you have to give it priority because he most likely does not have anyone to sign bail for him. So you’ll have to prioritize this file . . . . A person who is vulnerable has rights just like everybody . . . and we need to make sure he is not disadvantaged. So I am urging you to get this file as a matter of priority because of his vulnerable position.”
Unfortunately, there are a number of “vulnerable” people like Mr Lynch in our midst. There are many who live on the streets, some faced with abject poverty and others with no kin to sign bail when and if they run afoul of the law. Often, there is a common denominator why their cases do not start for years while they remain on remand. Somewhere in Barbados, some negligent individual has failed to do his or her job and to produce the file connected to the arrest made. Being imprisoned without trial is directly contrary to the presumption of innocence.
This failing in our judicial system has been given lip service from several quarters over the years with the promise of improvements. But almost every month Magistrate Frederick and other court officers allow persons their freedom after long periods of imprisonment without trial. Perhaps it is an indictment on Barbados’ legal fraternity that thus far – to our knowledge – no attorney-at-law has had the intestinal fortitude to test this situation in court by bringing a lawsuit against the Crown for this tort.
But, perhaps that case would take too long as well.