As the public debate and speculation rages over what may have led to the tragic deaths of Cornelius Barrow and his two infant children on Wednesday in a morning fire, Barbados’ Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, says the criticism fired at the court system is “unfounded.”
In the days after the tragedy, rights advocates vociferously weighed in on the alleged custody battle for the children between the deceased and his wife, Jovona Johnson-Barrow, with proponents on both sides of the argument taking aim at the manner in which the court handles matters of this nature.
However, this morning Sir Marston told Barbados TODAY that not only were persons rushing to judgement without having the facts, but the emotional response showed a lack of understanding about how the court system works.
“I think it is unfounded, but the problem is that when there is a lack of information, people will fill the void with all sorts of things. I think conversations like this where the media ask a question and get answers, will go a long way,” he said while revealing that court is on the verge of establishing a public education board.
The Chief Justice added: “I have often said that we need to de-mystify what happens in the courts… Nature abhors a vacuum and humans being a product of nature, abhor a vacuum as well. We will fill it with all types of information, which more times than not, is wrong or misguided and we need to clear it up.”
The Chief Justice made the comments on the sidelines of a gender-sensitive adjudication training for judicial officers at the Radisson Aquatica hotel this morning. Making it clear that he was not commenting on this week’s tragic incident, as it is still being investigated, Sir Marston noted that there is always room for judges and magistrates to do introspection in order to ensure that inherent biases are not clouding their judgement.
He noted that ever so often, the law is ambiguous on issues and it was therefore up to the presiding officer of the court to determine the spirit and intent of the law. He also gave a recent example where a judge in the Barbados Court of Appeal was required to do just that.
“When we say that we are going to treat people equally, we need to understand what that means, to understand our obligation to treat people equally. Two weeks ago, Justice Margaret Reifer delivered a ruling in the Court of Appeal and one of the things she pointed out is that while our Status of the Children Act on its face was intended to treat children equally, there are some bits of the legislation where they are not treated equally and it is the remit of the judiciary to interpret that legislation so that these children and the parents of these children are treated equally.
He further noted, “There must be no presumption in relation to either the fathers’ or the mothers’ side. They are both parents and they both deserve to be treated fairly and conclusions must be drawn only on facts as they are revealed.”
On Thursday, an outspoken men’s rights advocate condemned what he described as the failure of policymakers and the judiciary to hear and act upon the cries of “good, non-threatening fathers”.
In fact, Kammie Holder, spokesperson for Barbados Fathers 4 Justice, is concerned that authorities’ failure to address a disparity between the treatment of mothers and fathers before the law courts could result in damning consequences for families.
On the same day, president of the National Organisation of Women (NOW) Marsha Hinds expressed outrage that some Barbadians have been less than sympathetic to Johnson-Barrow who finalised her divorce with the deceased on Monday.
She claimed that in the months before the tragedy, NOW had been trying “to get the mother to stand up for her rights and face the law courts”.