Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson has set a “two to three-year” goal to “wrestle” the approximate 1000 backlog of cases in the island’s judicial system to the ground.
“We are going to have five judges to be assigned to be criminal court and . . . two additional acting judges. We have two judges who are presently assigned to criminal. The two acting judges will come and do criminal and when the other judges are appointed there is one who will also be assigned to do criminal particularly because one of the issues that we have is the huge population of persons in our prisons who have been on remand for an inordinately long time,” Sir Marston explained.
Addressing today’s special sitting of the Court of Appeal to mark the start of the new legal year 2019/2020, the island’s top judicial officer revealed that the first matters on the court’s criminal docket would be murder cases.
“Because of our backlog which is between 900 and 1,000 cases . . . our intention is to begin with murder cases first . . . especially those where persons have been on remand for awhile,” said the Chief Justice who stated that the court’s ultimate goal was for accused to have the matters heard in a timely manner.
“Once you are charged with an offence, particularly with the offence of murder, that we will be able to get that matter before a judge and jury within six months of the date of indictment. Of course there are a lot of variables involved in that and so it can’t be, of course, that every case will be dealt within six months.
“We will work with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), with counsel at the private Bar and we will especially work with police officers who have to get the files ready. The hope is that ultimately we will be able to get the murder case down within six months. My plan is that we should wrestle the backlog to the ground with five judges between two, three years – preferably two years,” Sir Marston added.
Following talks with the DPP Donna Babb Agard, QC, the Chief Justice revealed that the court would also make use of Maximum Sentence Indications (MSI) to tackle the backlog.
“We are going to have five judges working and we are going to have one judge specifically dedicated to MSI not that that judge will not also do trials,” Sir Marston said as he revealed that Chief Magistrate Christopher Birch would assume that role once appointed, “because he has been very proactive with the MSIs. I am hoping that the other magistrates will follow his example.”
Sir Marston also outlined plans to tackle what he said was a “huge” civil backlog.
“In the same way that the criminal backlog is going to be dealt with by trial and by MSI, the civil backlog will be dealt with by trial but particularly using mediation. From September 23, two Mondays from now – all civil cases will go through mandatory mediation,” the Chief Justice revealed.
Over the weekend Attorney General Dale Marshall released the list of new judges who were recommended to Prime Minister Mia Mottley by the judicial appointments committee.
They are Justice Rejendra Narine, a retired Court of Appeal Justice of Trinidad and Tobago; Barbadian, Francis Belle, who serves as a judge of the Court in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States; and Jefferson Cumberbatch, Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Those three will be appointed to the Court of Appeal while Shona Griffith from Belize; Cecil McCarthy, QC, who has acted as a judge in the High Court of Barbados in the last three years; Cicely Chase-Harding, QC, a leading practitioner of Family Law in Barbados; Barry Carrington, a public servant who also acted as a judge in 2018; and Chief Magistrate Christopher Birch.
Well known jurist Justice Carlisle Greaves and Magistrate Laurie-Ann Smith-Bovell will act as temporary judges.
To accommodate those appointments Sir Marston said new chambers have been constructed at the Supreme Court Complex at Whitepark Road with three chambers on the first level.
“We are about to construct two more, one on level two and one on level three. We also have two new courtrooms – one on level one, which is to be a criminal courtroom and the second one a civil courtroom which is on level two.”