This is becoming akin to a broken record. But we feel duty-bound to keep ringing this shame in the ears of seemingly apathetic authorities wherever they are to be found. We share the obvious pain of Magistrate Douglas Frederick whose frustration could lead possibly to accelerated ageing if he does not frequently take a series of deep breaths while sitting on the bench of his court.
Picture this scenario. A law-abiding citizen leaves her teenage daughter at home and heads to work. Within two hours she receives a telephone call that a felon broke into her home and raped her daughter. Police carry out investigations and the man is captured. Seven years later he walks free because no file has been produced to prosecute him. Mother and daughter must now occasionally pass this man on the streets and can only lament that he got away with his act.
Another scenario. A felon attempts to rob a middle-age man and in the process kills him. He is caught and charged. Four years later he receives bail because his case has not commenced due to the non-production of the file dealing with the incident. Six months after being bailed he confronts an individual on the streets, shoots and kills him. He is arrested, charged and remanded. Three years later he is bailed again for the second murder because that file has not been produced to the court. The file for the first murder is now seven years old and that has still not been produced either. Two months after being bailed for the second murder the individual shoots at a family member and is remanded once again.
This is the Barbados judicial system that exists today with apologists of all sizes, shapes and affiliations, making pretty, meaningless, empty speeches to Barbadians about what will be done, what could be done, what ought to be done, while nothing is being done. And no one is being held accountable for the mess that is. Those responsible still maintain their jobs, collect their monthly salaries, drive around their SUVs, attend luncheons, dinners and other social events and stroll on our beaches, while victims of serious crime steel themselves against taking the law into their own hands when the system fails them.
Magistrate Frederick has seemingly become a lone campaigner in trying to end this madness. He has virtually been begging for something to be done. But is anyone listening? The fact that he has been pleading for more than four years suggests that his anguish is falling on deaf ears. Yesterday this patriot was forced to dismiss three cases in the name of justice and there were all serious matters where the accused – whether innocent or guilty – walked free without the matters being adjudicated and with the victims of the crimes receiving no justice. The cases of theft, breaking and entering and wounding with intent to maim, disfigure or disable were seven, four and three years old respectively, and had one thing in common – no files to start the prosecution.
Mr Frederick did not mince his words. “This is not acceptable . . . this is a serious thing . . . You have to tell the investigators this. They are working, getting a salary . . . This is a matter from 2012. I am sure that this person [complainant] will be aggrieved . . .,” the magistrate said while addressing the three matters individually.
Perhaps the time has come for victims of crime, indeed, even accused persons, who do not get their day in court due to someone’s negligence, to consult with their attorneys-at-law and see whether they have grounds to bring lawsuits against those responsible for this national disgrace. If an accused spends three years on remand and is then set free without his innocence or guilt being determined by trial, because of lack of prosecution, someone should be held accountable in the accused’s interest. If someone’s 13-year-old daughter or son is ravished by an accused and he walks free because no file was prepared to prosecute him, someone should be held accountable in the victim’s interest. But no one is, in a system that is broken.
Perhaps, Mr Frederick’s colleagues on the bench need to join him in his public protestations. Perhaps parents, husbands, wives, widows, widowers, young men and young women, who have suffered twice – at the hands of their attackers and due to negligence in the system – might need to take to the streets in loud, lawful protest. Perhaps only then will a fire be lit under whoever might sit at any juncture in the office of the Prime Minister, Attorney General, Chief Justice, Commissioner of Police or Home Affairs Minister.
In the interim, we beseech Mr Frederick to keep bringing this disgraceful situation to the attention of the public. We intend to do likewise.