Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Donna Babb-Agard has cleared her office of any blame for the slow prosecution of murder cases, which has resulted in a large number of accused applying for bail while on remand on capital offences.
Instead, the DPP is placing the blame for any recent hold ups in murder and manslaughter trials squarely at the feet of judges.
This morning Babb-Agard told Barbados TODAY that her office has always placed a high priority on murder and manslaughter cases.
“It has always been part of the mandate of the Department of Public Prosecutions to give priority to certain categories of cases. Murder trials fall within that category which are fast-tracked where circumstances allow,” she said.
Last week Attorney General Dale Marshall raised alarm that eight murder accused on remand at Her Majesty’s Prison at Dodds applied for bail that week alone. He said the slow pace to trial has emboldened offenders and contributed to this country’s rising murder statistics, noting that there are 64 murder accused who are still awaiting trial.
While the AG did not point fingers at any section of the judiciary, he noted that this was an indication that the wheels of justice were moving much too slowly. Marshall revealed at the time that in an effort to bring the problem under control, discussions have been held with the DPP Babb-Agard and commitments were given to place high priority on clearing the backlog of murder trials.
“For my part I’ve had discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions to see how we can effectively reduce, if not eliminate, the backlog so we can have trials moving quickly through. We had discussions and she committed to trying to move the murder trials through the system as soon as possible and in fact to give them priority,” he stressed, while maintaining that Government has pledged the resources to addressed the matter urgently.
Babb-Agard revealed today: “In July 2018 I directed my prosecutors to set all murder and manslaughter cases down for arraignment during the months of September to December 2018.
“Priority was given to accused who were still on remand at Her Majesty’s Prison, Dodds, St Philip, for capital offences. My directive was to have firm dates fixed for trial over the next six months, or alternatively, at the earliest opportunity depending on the readiness for trial of self-represented accused or defence counsel,” she explained.
Acknowledging that judges have been granting bail on the grounds of perceived inordinate delays in the Magistrates’ Courts, as well as by the Crown in the High Courts, Babb-Agard contended that in recent times the judges have contributed to the backlog.
“It was surprising that at the beginning of the legal year in September 2018, certain judges presiding over the criminal courts made a decision not to hear capital matters or manslaughter trials during the Continuous Criminal Sessions. Murder and manslaughter trials which were set down on specific dates were adjourned by presiding judges on the basis that they were awaiting the amendment to Section 2 of the Offences Against the Person Act, Cap. 141,” the DPP said.
The proposed amendment, which failed to gain Senate approval, will abolish the mandatory death penalty and provide the judges with the discretion to either apply the death penalty or consider a sentence of imprisonment for life.
However, the DPP argued that this was not grounds for holding up these cases.
“It has always been my recommendation that murder and manslaughter trials proceed nonetheless, as there is nothing preventing judges commencing and disposing of capital offences and deferring sentencing for a later date when that amendment takes effect,” she said.
Babb-Agard said she hoped as the courts start the new year, judicial officers would reconsider their approach and be prepared to hear capital matters as a matter of urgency especially since “the liberty of the subject” (for those who have not been granted bail) and the administration of criminal justice remain a priority. [email protected]