As Barbados continues to grapple with a spate of gun violence that has so far taken nearly half a dozen lives, a former magistrate is suggesting that part of the solution lies in the establishment of gun courts.
Keith Simmons, who sat on the Bench during the early 1980s, said that if his recommendation is accepted and executed, it would speed up sentencing, address the backlog of cases and even reduce the number of arms and ammunition accused who return to the streets through the bail system.
“All cases involving guns at this present moment go the High Court. What we need to do is change the gun law so that a magistrate can deal with possession of guns or possession of ammunition,” Simmons told Barbados TODAY.
“Even when a fellow is charged with murder, the magistrate would deal with that
. . . give him up to seven or 10 years [sentencing leeway]. First of all, he can’t get bail because he would be sentenced already,” the Queen’s Counsel noted.
Simmons, who served as Barbados’ first and only Minister of Justice from 1991 to 1994, said Barbados was facing a law and order crisis, and therefore two gun courts would ease the situation significantly.
“You have a family court; you have a traffic court; you have a juvenile court. Why you don’t set up a gun court? It would work from 2 o’clock to 5 o’clock each day . . . two gun courts working side-by-side,” said the senior legal counsel, who is also a well-known social worker.
He suggested the courts be set up in the Bridgetown area.
The former magistrate argued that there was nothing complicated about adjudicating “possession”, contending that a person either possessed a gun or he didn’t.
“It is no big set of law. It is if you have a gun or you haven’t got a gun. It is not like fraud. You either have possession or don’t have possession of a gun. You have possession of a firearm or you don’t have possession of a firearm,” he reasoned.
“So let the possession aspect go before the magistrate. So by the time the backlog gets to them they would have served time. So even if they stay in there [prison] for five years before the other gun-related charges come up, they would be there [in jail],” he added.
Simmons pointed out that at the moment, a person on such serious charges was entitled to bail.
“So if a man is in jail for two years, and he applies for bail, how can the judge deny him bail once he has the sureties? So it is a simple matter,” Simmons told Barbados TODAY.
Simmons insisted that the only way to solve crime in this country was to “put away the perpetrators.”
“And the more serious the crime, the quicker,” he added.
He also said that two gun courts would provide more criminal work for lawyers since few of them were now doing this type of job.
The social worker also recalled that as far back as 1975 he had recommended compulsory national youth service in Barbados but was ridiculed. Simmons said the country was now paying the price for ignoring the suggestion.
He also responded to Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s appointment of former Commissioner of Police (COP) Darwin Dottin to be consultant on crime to sitting COP Tyrone Griffith.
“It is a step in the wrong direction,” Simmons told Barbados TODAY while expressing concern about the kind of relation that Dottin had had with his now retired Deputy Bertie Hinds.