One day coming soon a murder accused is going to walk out of the Magistrate’s Court in Barbados a free man having not answered to the court for his alleged criminal act. And somewhere in Barbados there will be gnashing of teeth as the family of the victim ponders on how Barbados’ judicial system could have deteriorated to such disturbing levels.
We have addressed this matter before but to no avail. Our politicians, most of whom are still in general election mode, stand weekly in Barbados’ Parliament reflecting on the deeds or misdeeds of their predecessors, seemingly unaware that their blame game has run its course and will not assist in restoring equilibrium and prosperity to Barbados. And, that there are other major issues deserving of attention.
A great shame unfolds and repeats itself weekly in Barbados and there is no sound of real fury coming from whence it should. The Commissioner of Police Mr Tyrone Griffith is saying little or nothing on the issue. The Minister of Home Affairs Mr Edmund Hinkson is saying little or nothing on the issue. The Attorney General Mr Dale Marshall has said a bit on the issue but precious little has been done, as was the case with his predecessor. The Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson has said a bit on the issue but again precious little has been done. If the continued madness endured by magistrates, accused, victims and their families is to be used as the gauge, then precious little has been done or is being done to halt this runaway train of ineptness that is the process of commencing criminal cases.
Perhaps, the only way that a fire will finally be lit under those responsible is if some brave magistrate has the courage to dismiss a murder case for lack of prosecution and be prepared to confront the firestorm that will follow from the public. Of course, the usual lame practice of the state re-lodging the case will follow but such is the inefficiencies in the judicial system that the list of missing or unprepared files is reportedly so extensive that re-lodging cases might become the rule and not the exception.
Today at the Magistrate’s Court we saw the disgraceful scenario of a murder accused being on remand for almost five years and the prosecution could not start the case because as usual there was no documentation to do so. Correctly, the accused asked for the matter to be dismissed. After all, he had been on remand for a period equivalent to one thousand, six hundred and seventy-four days without a shred of evidence brought from police witnesses, civilian witnesses, pathologist, or others. We challenge Commissioner Griffith to indicate to the general public which and how many police officers have been disciplined or dismissed for neglecting the duty of producing these case files to the court. We challenge Minister Hinkson to indicate to the general public the number of serious criminal matters that have been dismissed over the past five years without trial because of the absence of case files. We challenge Attorney General Marshall to crusade against this national blot with the same verve that he promises to root out corruption. Among the definitions of corruption are dishonesty, misconduct and unscrupulousness. If there are persons accepting a monthly salary to – among other things – facilitate the preparation of files for the court in a timely manner and they are not working for the money they readily accept, isn’t this misconduct, dishonesty and unscrupulousness?
And lest some of those who man the controls of our judicial system forget, Section 13, Subsection (3) of Barbados’ Constitution speaks in clear terms that if any person arrested or detained upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed or being about to commit a criminal offence is not tried within a reasonable time, then, without prejudice to any further proceedings which may be brought against him, he shall be released either unconditionally or upon reasonable conditions, including in particular such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears at a later date for trial or for proceedings preliminary to trial. Perhaps it is time someone pays this situation a bit more than lip service.
But the problem is seemingly systemic and endemic. If case files are not reaching the court for matters to be heard, it might be a case of those responsible not knowing what to do to get them to court. Could this be a situation of a promotional system based not on merit and abilities that has seen persons rise to high office in the Royal Barbados Police Force but not having the capacity and capability to supervise the preparation of files for the court? The problem does not relate to technology, it seems, but more one of human inefficiency.
And while this scenario plays out every week, not only are the rights of accused trampled upon, but their alleged victims and families walk away from Coleridge Street and Whitepark Road convinced that there is no justice in Barbados and that the next time, they will take the law into their own hands. It would be a massive irony if the agencies responsible for the efficient running of our judicial processes are those partially at fault for some of the increasing anarchy we are witnessing on our streets.