“A Daniel come to judgment, yea, a Daniel! — ‘Tis very true. O wise and upright judge!” – Shylock in William Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”, Act IV, Scene 1.
We most heartily welcome the creation of five new criminal courts and a commercial law court for the new law term later this year.
Like a Daniel come to judgement, at long last, the Government of Barbados has made a concerted and so long overdue effort at wrestling with the monumental backlog of court cases, a situation we suspect has only worsened during the year-long closure of the Supreme Court complex, a spanking new building that in a few short years succumbed to the affliction of sick building syndrome.
Indeed, the cynical might expect this reform if none other, for one out of three elected lawmakers is a lawyer, from the Prime Minister on down. But better now than later.
The Caribbean Court of Justice has repeatedly slammed our judiciary for the snail’s pace in which matters civil and criminal are heard. Clearly, the justices have been to see that our ancient legal system, renowned throughout the Empire and now the Commonwealth as an exemplar of the rule of law, earn the position it has held.
The wheels of justice have seemingly ground to a halt, as court cases dragged on over the course of decades, nay a generation or more, giving poignant meaning to the idiom, ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied’.
It had become routine for the highest adjudicators of our realm to admonish our court system, much to the ire of a minority of noisome legal luminaries with close ties to the last administration. Hopes were high that the new Chief Justice who cut his eye-teeth not in a Commonwealth jurisdiction but in fast-paced New York would have brought the backlog to book. Sadly, the mountains of legal paper seemed to overwhelm Sir Marston, despite his clear frustration with this sorry state of affairs.
We are indeed aware of the CCJ’s own efforts to bring our Victorian-era judicial branch from horse and buggy to cyberspace throught the Jurist programme which seeks to introduce homegrown electronic court filing applications. The system promises to create an electronic paper trail that stretches from the police station to the Crown Prosecutor’s chambers to the court room, thence to prison and probation officer.
We look forward to the judiciary’s buy-in of the new system and its full activation in a refurbished Supreme Court complex when its doors open on March 31.
The Dickensian character Mr Bumble of Oliver Twist, a pettifogging bureaucrat, is most famously known for uttering these words: “The law is a ass – a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience.” The eyes of our judiciary, an independent branch of Government, have been opened to the unpleasant experience of being the butt of black humour in Caribbean legal circles.
We support the assertion made by the Minister for Commerce Dwight Sutherland that the new Commercial Court can be a transformational player in levelling the playing field for business. We hope that without greater delay, the Government will replace the current, wholly inadequate, Employment Rights Tribunal with a full-fledged Industrial Court, just as we imagine the Commercial Court will supplant the limited small-claims commercial tribunal in the Ministry of Commerce.
New judges for new courts: yes, please. But surely there must also be new court clerks and other support staff. Perhaps the courts will rehire and perhaps retrain some of those diligent workers sent packing in the Government’s economy drive. It would make little sense for a court to be hampered by inadequate staff.
So we applaud this initial step towards restoring battered confidence in our judiciary. From landowners to ZR van drivers, many have found themselves ill-served by judicial tardiness. A tiny, unscrupulous minority of members of the Bar, mindful that time is indeed money, have sought to take advantage of adjournment after adjournment, as interest piled up in chambers’ accounts, unlawfully so, while hapless citizens wait, sometimes to death, for awards of probate, land title, court judgements and even basic findings of fact. Criminals have laughed their way into and out of the revolving door of our justice system, knowing that while Lady Justice is blind, her course can be perverted and she can be led off time’s precipice.
And worryingly, we shudder to imagine how many would-be investors have examined how long it takes for our legal system to perform rudimentary functions, found it wanting, and bypassed this land for more favourable climes.
This is one important, initial blow to set the wheels of Barbadian justice moving faster and with due and deliberate haste. But it is an initial step. The work now begins to reform archaic statutes, regulations and processes so that our ancient rights to a speedy trial by our peers, enshrined in constitution and common law are upheld, not only for the sake of the accused but for the victims of crime and their long-suffering families and friends.
For swift and sure justice is as much a deterrent to a law-breaker as a police constable around the corner. We have for far too long been in short supply of both.