Three separate and unrelated developments recently have highlighted the necessity for Barbadians to be forever vigilant, to be their brother’s keeper and to be prepared to seek justice irrespective of the social status of the individual or individuals who might deprive them of certain basic rights.
The conviction of attorney-at-law Vonda Pile for theft should bring no personal joy to anyone, except perhaps to the person who brought the legal action against her. But the bigger picture is that Miss Pile is but only one of several officers of the court who have been charged or convicted for spiriting away the funds of their clients. Over the years too many lawyers have brought dishonour to a noble profession that has been at the vanguard of ensuring that the rights of citizens are protected, that has looked after the interests of persons on both sides of the law and has generally certified that the affairs of Barbadians whether major or small have solid legal foundations. Make no mistake about it, Barbados has been enriched, protected and made a stable nation by the astute work of several brilliant and honest attorneys-at-law over the decades.
But there is a need for introspection by those in the profession, by the agency responsible for policing the profession and by persons who train these professionals. Theirs is a calling where ethics should be high on the list of their qualities and where there is an understanding that one or two errant individuals can sully an entire profession. There is an unfortunate belief by many in Barbados that most of our lawyers are thieves and this simply is not true. But when trust between lawyers and clients is damaged and exposed it is often difficult to repair reputations.
It is perhaps incumbent on those within the profession to not only weed out the bad elements in their midst but to be seen to be assisting in having them legally removed from the profession. We have had too many allegations of lawyers acquiring the property of their clients on their deaths, appropriating funds from insurance settlements while their clients languish in poverty and often still with the injury related to their insurance claims. We have had too many reports previously of lawyers keeping the settlements of their clients on their personal bank accounts for the purpose of collecting interest while victims wait many years to access their money. Thankfully, such lawyers are the exception and not the rule. But one or two are too many.
The recent trial, conviction and dismissal of a senior officer from the Barbados Defence Force and the nature of the charges brought against him are cause for grave concern. Perhaps, this saga might have been more revealing had the Royal Barbados Police Force played an investigative role into any evidence which the Defence Force might have accumulated against the officer and which they subsequently used to formulate their charges. It is interesting that two of the more serious charges were dropped after defence counsel submissions. These related to communications with individuals involved in the illegal drug trade. The expected appeal in this matter will be most interesting.
The military tribunal has made its decision and we cast no aspersion on the officer with respect to the illegal drug trade. Suffice to say that across the globe where drug trafficking and gun-running are scourges in societies, those involved in the nefarious trade will attempt to influence persons working at points of entry, members of police forces, army, customs, coast guard, ship captains, pilots and the like. Therefore, any country ought to be extremely cautious where there is the slightest hint of a breach of its security network. Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith’s expressed concerns a few years ago about the vulnerability of our ports of entry and our coastal borders and the complicity of some of those manning those defences continue to resonate.
Much has been said about Barbados’ dysfunctional judicial system but today it reached even more ridiculous proportions – if that is possible. Winston Agard was released from Her Majesty’s Prison at Dodds, St Philip, after being on remand from 2010 on a theft charge and having last appeared at court in 2012. Put another way, Mr Agard spent seven years in jail without reaching the court because the authorities seemingly forgot he was in prison or were negligent as to ascertain why he was in prison for seven years without at least being taken before the court. His lengthy remand without a court appearance was today described in the Supreme Court as an “injustice” and “madness”.
Sadly, if Mr Agard is to be believed, it appears that others have been similarly “forgotten” at Dodds by a system that is chronically flawed.
But no heads will roll at Dodds. Similarly, a few lawyers will continue to soil their profession and some of those protecting our island will from time to time find themselves on the wrong side of the law. These situations indeed give us reason to be forever vigilant.
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