Government’s stated intention to review a number of archaic Barbadian laws is indeed welcome news.
Yesterday during debate on the Law Revision and Law Reform Bill 2018, Attorney General Dale Marshall said Government was moving to hire a law revision commissioner as well as establishing a law review commission to help modernize certain Barbadian laws.
The veteran politician stated that with a law review commission and a law review commissioner, Government would be establishing an entity which would be expected “to deal with the major instruments and see what changes have been made” and make recommendations including possible drafts to the policymakers.
Mr Marshall noted: “For small states like ours, this takes on tremendous significance. Small states are small in population and small in resource basis, but our society needs very much the same kinds of law and perhaps in some respects even the same amount of law as England or the United States. . . . Just because we are a small country doesn’t mean our law can be second best or need not be as comprehensive . . . .We still need especially in this globalizing environment to make sure that our legislative framework is on all fours with many nations across the board,” Mr Marshall insisted.
The Attorney General is completely on point with his assertions. And, within that context, there are some legal areas that have not been given adequate attention by successive governments which hopefully will attract serious discussion and form the basis for consideration for legislative or constitutional reform. In keeping with Mr Marshall’s suggestion that Barbadian laws should be on “all fours with many nations across the board” some thought should be given to reviewing the process of appointing high court judges and also to the functioning of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The appointment of judges in Barbados has a significant political element to it that often raises eyebrows. It is true that in jurisdictions such as the United States of America these appointments can also have a political element and raise similar eyebrows. But at least there is a confirmation process to which Supreme Court judges are subjected where their suitability can be probed not only at the professional level but also at the personal level. One would think that in such a tiny jurisdiction as Barbados with an equally tiny population of frequently interlocking relationships, that the need for some screening or probative process in appointing judges would take on even greater significance than jurisdictions such as England or the United States.
As is presently the case, a Barbadian Prime Minister has overwhelming power to oversee the appointment of supreme court judges, and as has been demonstrated before, to manage the changing of laws to accommodate even the appointment of a Chief Justice. In any thriving democracy checks and balances are critical to fostering transparency and accountability. Those manning a country’s judiciary have significant power and can be subject to significant influences. It is within such a context that everything should be done, and be seen to be done to ensure that a country’s populace is comfortable with those who interpret laws and dispense justice that can have life-altering effects on them.
Similarly, there ought to be a process that engenders greater accountability in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Presently, any individual holding that office can make decisions without recourse to anyone or without giving reasons for decisions made. In other words, a DPP has the authority to discontinue a criminal case even if the entire legal profession is of the opinion that there is a sufficiency of prima facie evidence for it to proceed. And not only can that decision be made, but a DPP is not bound to give an explanation as to the rationale – legal or otherwise – for the decision made. Over decades past there have been some occasions where eyebrows have been raised and foreheads have become furrowed at some decisions made. But consternation, question marks, incredulity and whispers have always been kept behind closed doors.
We support the Attorney General on the need to review archaic laws. Some of these might not take into consideration technological advances, communications, the changing dynamics of family structures, cultural expression, social services, religious diversification and a host of other social interactions. But such review must not be perfunctory, nor should those charged with carrying out this task be unwilling to initiate reform even within the very corridors of power that they superintend. We will see as the months and years unfold whether meaning is truly given to yesterday’s debate.