The Court of Appeal has taken responsibility for “systemic failures” in the justice system but attorney-at-law Arthur Holder has described the situation as simply “woeful”.
In handing down a 94-page decision today, following an over three-year delay in an appeal decision involving two Guyanese drug convicts, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson stated that the long history of the matter involved “a series of delays for varying reasons which included the inefficiencies of the justice system”.
“There is no justification for the excessive lapse of time,” Sir Marston admitted.
Lemme Michael Campbell and Rohan Shasti Rambarran were serving 25-year and 30-year sentences at Dodds respectively after they were convicted of importation, possession and trafficking of 91.3 kilos of cannabis and 119.4 kilos of cocaine found in 16 hollowed-out logs and in two suitcases. They had four other co-accused who have since served their sentences and have been released.
Acting on their behalf attorneys for the two convicts filed appeals against their convictions and sentences in 2010 and final date of hearing was in March 2016.
“Approximately three and a half years have elapsed since the delivery of this court’s decision and it has been a total of approximately nine years that this appeal was subject to the appellate process and there is no justification for the excessive lapse of time. In these circumstances we accept and take responsibility for the systemic failure,” the Chief Justice told today’s sitting.
“The question that therefore arises
. . . what should be the remedy afforded to the appellants whose rights have been infringed,” he added.
Rambarran had served a sentence of approximately nine years as well as his four months spent on remand while Campbell served 13 years including his four years and 11 days spent on remand.
“In considering the appropriate remedy which meets the justice of this case we have sought to balance the public interest in ensuring, on the one hand that the convicted persons serve their full sentence as a consequence of the criminal acts and the other, that their interest in having their constitutional rights safeguarded by trial and appellate processes be secured by those entrusted to preserve and uphold those rights.
“We therefore conclude that the just thing to do is to vary the sentences to time served and direct the release today of appellants Rambarran and Campbell.
“In light of the discussion, we conclude that the appeals against the convictions are dismissed in the entirety and the appeals against sentence are allowed, and the sentences varied, in our discretion to time served,” the island’s Chief Justice said.
However, attorney-at-law Arthur Holder who represented Campbell along with Kendrid Sergeant was not happy with the delay.
He revealed that they had appeared before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in relation to the appeal and that court had ordered that the appellant’s application for leave to appeal against his convictions be remitted to the Barbados Court of Appeal.
“And I quote ‘for an expedited hearing and determination of the application in accordance with the order that scheduled the hearing on the 21 July 2014’.
“This appeal was heard in March, 2016, four days this appeal was heard. I went and looked in the dictionary for the word expedited and it means ‘to make an action or process happen sooner or be accomplished more quickly’. On August 28, 2019, is this what expedited means? Well, if this is what expedited means the justice system in Barbados is woeful and in trouble!” Arthur told reporters in the halls of the Supreme Court.
“If that is what constitutes an expedited hearing I do not want to hear an hearing that is not expedited. Is this really the wording from our highest court, the CCJ. Well, if this is the wording from our highest court, then something is wrong with our other courts here, and this is justice? Then they have no regard for the CCJ,” Arthur further stated.
He also maintained that the Court of Appeal had no other choice but to take responsibility for the delays.
“After three years, how can you get around it by not admitting and taking responsibility. There is nothing left to do if you are given a hearing some three years after.
“Is it systemic delay or is something wrong with the system of justice rather than the word systemic delay. I think it ought to be placed differently. Something has to be wrong with the system of justice rather than systemic delay,” he added as he spoke on Campbell’s behalf.