Attorney General Dale Marshall recently announced that the pool of judges available to adjudicate criminal and civil matters in Barbados’ Court of Appeal and High Court would be increased. The announcement was understandably met with general approval in most, if not all quarters. And if more judges eventually equate to less judicial gridlock, then the initiative would have served its purpose.
Those additions revealed by Mr. Marshall, from all reports and information, gleaned, will be entering the fray with solid and impeccable backgrounds within the judiciary in both civil and criminal proceedings. Some have previously acted as judges both in Barbados and in other Caribbean jurisdictions. We wish them all well.
Commenting subsequently on the appointments and the work to be undertaken within the courts, especially as it related to dealing with the backlog of cases, Barbados’ Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson set a two to three-year target to “wrestle” the approximate backlog of 1000 cases in the island’s judicial system to the ground. He noted: “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 a while . . . Once you are charged with an offense, particularly with the offense of murder, that we will be able to get that matter before a judge and jury within six months of the date of the 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 with within six months.”
Sir Marston added that the judicial officers would work with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, with counsel at the private Bar and especially with police officers who have to get crime files prepared for the court. “The hope is that ultimately we will be able to get the murder case done 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,” he said. Sir Marston has made previous promises before with respect to improvements in the judiciary and Barbadians are still waiting to see them. We hope there will be substantially in the future to these reassuring words.
However, there is something that neither the Attorney General nor the Chief Justice addressed during their recent public comments. And that relates to a culture in Barbados that lends itself to inefficiencies, sloth, and procrastination. These, in turn, lead to the backlogs in civil and criminal cases. How will the Government and the judiciary contend with that culture? To ensure that these systems work Sir Marston must pay attention to the actual functioning of judges and magistrates. What constitutes a day’s work for judges and magistrates? It is not a common sight to view our high courts operating in the late evening on a daily basis. And what about the delivery of judgments? The local judiciary was stained by remarks made by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Winton Campbell versus The Attorney general, 2009, when Barbados’ High Court was rebuked for its sloth. Stating then that no judgment should be outstanding for more than six months, the CCJ noted that Justice Frederick Waterman had taken three years to deliver a judgment and then the Court of Appeal had then taken almost four and a half years to do the same. This was not a case of numbers, this was a case of Barbadian culture. The point is that more judges or magistrates do not automatically translate into greater efficiencies. It translates automatically into more salaries but there must be a paradigm shift to guarantee that targeted goals are met.
It must be appreciated that while judges are working on the backlog of criminal cases, there will not be a moratorium on crime on the island. Thus there must be an attempt to light a fire under the Royal Barbados Police Force to ensure that case files on newly committed offenses are completed with dispatch for the court process. There must also be a check on lawyers who frustrate and delay the process with frequent calls for adjournments when they “have not been properly briefed” – a worn euphemistic expression for not being paid by their clients.
Civil matters drag for decades in Barbados because medical reports cannot be obtained from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital or private practitioners. Accident claims cannot be adjudicated because reports are not forthcoming in a timely manner from the Royal Barbados Police Force. And this endemic laissez-faire attitude leaves Barbadian victims distrusting the very systems that ought to be serving their interests. Prime Minister Mia Mottley once said that many hands make light work but that is far from the truth. Many committed and hard-working hands make light work. That is a major difference. And it is no less a truism within the judiciary.