If Cabinet minister and attorney-at-law Kerrie Symmonds had his way, there would be no pre-trial publicity for any accused person in Barbados.
Symmonds, Minister of Tourism and International Transport, made the suggestion to the House of Assembly in this afternoon’s debate on the Offences Against the Person (Amendment) Bill 2018, the measure to abolish the mandatory death sentence that was later passed by lawmakers.
Symmonds declared he was not at all happy with the existing tradition of publishing the details of cases in a system where an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Under current legal restrictions, suspects usually remain unidentified until they are formally brought before the law courts on a criminal charge. Reporting on the case is then restricted to court proceedings.
“The reality is that these are things that bothered me certainly when I was practising at the Bar and agitated me coming out of law school because of the patent obvious absence of fairness,” the MP for St James North said.
“A headline would appear in a paper that Jeffrey Bostic, not the honourable member, a man name Jeffrey Bostic, get hold for some offence; and this is a front-page story telling you where he was and what he is alleged to have been doing and whatever the offence is,” Symmonds said.
But he argued that the taint of pre-trial publicity remains with the accused person when the prosecution’s case fails and the accused is freed.
“But the headline that was there, compromises him and his reputation for life. Worse yet, the unfair nature and the prejudicial nature of the pre-trial publicity is that in some instances people in a jury remember the headline and form a negative opinion of the accused man even before the case has begun, and no matter how strenuously and robustly the defence counsel puts a case, they are remembering that which the paper or the television or in this day and age, and the social media and whoever else, what they have told them . . . and that colours and tarnishes the image that they have of the accused man,” the lawyer-parliamentarian declared.
Symmonds noted that larger countries are taking these issues into consideration as their jurisprudence changes. He believes that Barbados may also soon follow suit in addressing the matter of pre-trial publicity.
He also spoke to the issue of pre-trial disclosure where the prosecution does not reveal to defence counsel beforehand all that it intends to say about an accused during trial.
“We have come, I concede, a long way on that matter and nowadays it is more common to have a full disclosure of that which is said against you. But you have to beg for it. And very often, your ability to get it in a timely manner varies from judicial officer to judicial officer, who, quite frankly, some judicial officers, because they are human beings have their own views on these matters and may have their own prejudices. I do not know,” Symmonds said.