President of the Barbados Bar Association, Liesel Weekes, is calling for the establishment of a criminal registry to safeguard against cases like Winston Adolphus Agard’s, the petty thief who languished in prison on remand for almost a decade. His case drew national attention this week when he was brought to court and later released from custody.
Weekes told Barbados TODAY that given the manner in which the systems currently handle records, she would not be surprised if there are more forgotten persons on remand.
“In the civil side of things there is a registry, they take documents, they log documents, you know when the matters are due, and you know when the dates are coming. In the civil system you can actually follow a file from the date it starts to the date it ends. In the criminal jurisdiction of the court there is none of that,” said Weekes.
The Bar association president contended that it is not enough for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to be the sole recordkeeper of criminal cases, especially since it is the courts and not the DPP that bears the brunt of the blame for backlog in criminal matters.
“The prosecution of criminal cases is handled by the DPP and there really needs to be an independent registry where judges are able to see which cases have been in the system for however long and bring them forward. This way they can organise the business of the court, and since it is the court that gets the backlash for the backlog, then they should have control of the cases in the criminal jurisdiction,” she said.
Weekes added, “We do need that criminal registry so that we could keep track of all of the matters in the system and if we had something like that it would solve a lot of matters. It is a very real possibility that there are others like him [Agard] in the system.”
The attorney-at-law explained that under the current system violent crimes are given high priority and therefore it was easy for those accused of petty crimes to fall through the cracks.
“It wasn’t a murder; it wasn’t rape and you would find that there is some kind of priority when it comes to those matters. He stole a handbag, which may or may not have had a $1000 in it. So he and people like him will get lost because there is nobody identifying that as a priority issue because it is not a violent crime. We have brought in plea bargaining system and while that is fantastic, you still have to bring them to court so that you can inform them about their options under the plea bargaining system,” she stressed.
Agard got his day in the No. 2 Supreme Court on Wednesday thanks to the actions of Prison Officer Floyd Downes who informed court officials and Justice Randall Worrell that the now convicted man “fell through the cracks” and had not been before a judicial officer since 2012. Agard pleaded guilty to stealing a bag and contents including $1,000 cash belonging to Connie Young on March 27, 2009. The total value was BDS$9,230. He had been arrested months later and remanded in January 2010.
In her interview with Barbados TODAY, Weekes lamented that Agard was essentially denied due process and noted that there is little that could compensate the 50-year-old man for the time he lost.
“People have rights, at the time he was only accused, he wasn’t tried and convicted but he was not given the chance to plead guilty and get out. That is ten years of his life and I don’t think that is easily compensated, even if there is a monetary compensation,” she said.