That is the recommendation of a prominent local attorney at law who wants Government to “shut down” the entire prison remand system as presently exists and replace it with a completely fresh model.
Defence attorney Verla DePeiza made the call today as she joined several other criminal lawyers in expressing frustration over the current system which may have many accused persons on remand who are languishing in jail, forgotten.
“If someone does not have counsel they tend to fall through the cracks and that should be wrong. You don’t have to have counsel. That is what the law ostensibly says, but that is not what it generally amounts to…if a man spends seven years on remand he is not special to the extent that he is not the only one. We have matters which have reached that stage and they (accused) have come and sentenced to time served. But it is unfair. Very unfair,” DePeiza, who is also Leader of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) told Barbados TODAY in the precincts of the High Court today.
“There is so much about this system that does not work that it is frustrating to even talk about it. I don’t think that anybody who has had even a passing brush with this system would think that it is fine. This needs perhaps to be shut down and start from scratch…with a brand new system and full practice directions, with sanctions if not followed…then we all have to abide by it. I can’t see anything short of that draconian measure will work now,” the attorney stressed.
She suggested that hiring new judges – as has been announced by Government recently – is just one step only, but that the answer may lie in the creation of a new ethos and new work ethic.
A few days ago, the No.2 Supreme Court set Winston Agard free after he pleaded guilty to theft after he had been languishing in jail for almost a decade, having last appeared before a judicial officer seven years ago.
In fact, his attorney Angella Mitchell-Gittens, who appeared pro bono as a friend of the court, noted that he had spent more time in prison than the maximum penalty for his crime.
It was because of the actions of Prison Officer Floyd Downes that the matter was brought to the attention of the court. The prison officer informed court officials including Justice Randall Worrell that the now convicted man “fell through the cracks” and had not been before a judicial officer since 2012.
But today, another defence criminal lawyer, Marlon Gordon told Barbados TODAY he was currently trying to get a decision in an appeal case for a client for the past three years while he remains jailed on a lengthy sentence.
“We are now waiting on one appeal now for three years…almost going four years…the man’s appeal was heard in 2016 and we still can’t get a decision. So that means the man is on a long sentence, but for him to take the next stage to go to the CCJ (Caribbean Court of Justice), he can’t,” said Gordon.
The defence attorney noted that worse yet, is that accused are now lining up to plead guilty out of frustration and being tired of sitting in prison for lengthy periods without their cases being heard.
He said the present system of delay is failure on the part of the justice process.
“We can’t expect men to wait seven years for trial and out of frustration, they throw in the towel. The system definitely needs to address that either by having more judges, more court money, more prosecutors or we have a system where Legal Aid is given more resources. We need to at least attack from a numbers [perspective]. We have too many people, with too little courts, with too little things happening,” the attorney stated.
He along with attorney Shadia Simpson are strongly suggesting that Government needs to involve the stakeholders, such as lawyers and court clerks, in finding sound and lasting solutions to issues of this kind.
“For example, in the magistrates’ courts. You need to sit down with the clerks of the courts. They are the ones who are there every single day; and they are the ones who see a lot of the errors that are being made in the court system,” Simpson told Barbados TODAY this morning.
She said, while she was not dismissing the fact that those in the higher echelons of the administration should be involved, the criminal lawyer insisted that it would be a big mistake to shut out those who actually work in the system daily.
“You need to speak to those people who may be overlooked simply because of the position they hold. If we want to remedy all of these issues that we are having in the system, from poor prosecuting to the backlog of cases…if you really want to tackle these things, we need to get to the root of the problem. They [Government officials] need to sit down and start dealing with it in a systematic way…because if you don’t have the police prosecuting in a timely manner, it is obviously you are going to have issues with people sitting down in jail languishing away,” argued the young attorney.
And former Cabinet minister Michael Lashley, QC, also came up with some suggestions about what should be done to address the current delays in bringing accused to trial.
Lashley thinks an early guilty plea system would be a key part of the solution.
“My position on it is that you have to look at a scheme of early guilty plea. What you can do is have a court set aside and a prosecutor set aside to deal with the early guilty pleas. You can work along with the magistrates’ courts. Of course when persons are charged then once they indicate they can plead guilty,” said the former minister in the Democratic Labour Party administration.
He recalled that under former Chief Justice Sir David Simmons there were plea of direction hearings which he said helped a lot.
“That was stopped. I don’t know why. But that assisted the courts very well because you get an early indication and then the prosecution along with the defence can call up the matter and get rid of it,” Lashley stated.
He suggested that a group of probation officers could be allocated to prepare the presentencing reports to speed up the process.
He also recommended that Legal Aid should play a greater role in assisting persons who want to plead guilty but who cannot afford a lawyer.