With two magistrates absent, cases at the District ‘A’ Magistrates’ Court have come to a virtual standstill.
And the situation has frustrated the accused, complainants, witnesses and attorneys-at-law, who have all been turning up to empty courts.
Magistrate Kristie Cuffy-Sargeant who presides over the No. 2 Criminal Court is currently on vacation, while Magistrate Douglas Frederick has been moved to the post of acting Chief Legal Officer at the National Housing Corporation’s legal unit for the next six weeks. This state of affairs leaves only Magistrate Graveney Bannister on the bench at the Bridgetown court.
It has meant that Bannister, who sits in the Traffic Court, has also been hearing new criminal charges.
In an effort to lessen his load, acting Chief Magistrate Ian Weekes was stationed in the No.1 Criminal Court last Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
However, he has not returned this week.
With the two courtrooms practically empty, scores of accused, complainants and witnesses have been turning up for their court dates only to find out that there is no magistrate to preside over their matters.
Efforts to reach acting Registrar Barry Carrington for comment proved unsuccessful up to news time.
An irate Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY he was at a loss of how two magistrates could be unavailable at the same time.
He said it was mind-boggling that no replacements had been found for either Cuffy-Sargeant or Frederick.
“Magistrate Cuffy-Sargeant has gone on vacation and that is fine, but did it come as a surprise to the Registrar and the Chief Justice that she was going on vacation or was it an emergency vacation because no one is there to replace her.
“At the same time, Magistrate Douglas Frederick is sent to the NHC as Chief Legal Officer. I don’t know if that came as a great surprise, but were no replacements available? I have not looked at the court list in Mrs. Cuffy-Sargeant’s court, but every single day in Mr. Frederick’s court there are 30 cases, 30 litigants turning up waiting to see what is happening with their cases. Complainants, witnesses, all of these people want to know what is going on,” Pilgrim insisted.
The outspoken lawyer said this was just another example of the poor functioning of the judicial system.
“I cannot understand how [this occurred] in the context that recently we had two decisions from the Court of Appeals saying that these cases have been delayed for extremely long periods.
“That systemic delay is related to the failure of judges at the highest level to do their job, [and] now you’re telling me you’re just transferring people all over the place, or they’re going on leave and you didn’t seem to know it was happening, therefore you can make no preparation for their absence, leaving hundreds of litigants and accused persons and witnesses disenfranchised and discombobulated,” Pilgrim contended.
“Why are we running the courts at all if we can’t be respectful of people’s time and energy? It’s as if no one cares.”