Governor General Dame Sandra Mason’s words – “The world is watching” – to newly appointed Court of Appeal and High Court judges back in September solidified that the judiciary did not escape the spotlight during the past 12-months vis-à-vis the unprecedented levels of crime and violence plaguing the country.
Taking up posts in the Appeal Court were, Justices Rajendra Narine, Francis Belle and Jefferson Cumberbatch while installed in the High Court were Justices Shona Griffith; Cecil McCarthy, QC; Cicely Chase-Harding, QC; Barry Carrington and former Chief Magistrate Christopher Birch.
The number of courts hearing criminal matters moved from two to five, with two temporary judges – Justices Carlisle Greaves and Laurie-Ann Smith-Bovell – taking the Bench, working to clear the backlog of currently over 1,000 criminal cases.
“We have held fast to our commitment to increase the size of the judiciary in Barbados so as to be able to see an improvement in the movement of cases through our judicial system. The temporary judges are going to play a tremendous role in helping us to get rid of the backlog of criminal cases,” said Attorney General Dale Marshall who also disclosed there are roughly over 70 murder trials awaiting a hearing, with the oldest dating back to 2007. “I expect that over the next year to the next year-and-a-half or two years, we will begin to break the backlog of both the civil and criminal trials in Barbados”.
After a year’s separation at Manor Lodge and Cane Garden, St Thomas due to environmental challenges, the High Court settled back at its Whitepark Road, St Michael home in the first quarter of 2019. And at the September start of the new legal year, murder cases took priority with three accused going on trial before separate juries. One of those cases was before Justice Greaves, which was not without its set of legal drama.
After weeks of hearing evidence, a jury found Pedro Deroy Ellis, 38, of Morris Gap, Westbury Road, not guilty of murder. They were unable to reach a verdict on a lesser count of manslaughter. With that verdict, he was again remanded to prison but two weeks later was freed by the Court of Appeal after his legal team, led by Queen’s Counsel Larry Smith, successfully argued that he was “improperly imprisoned” given the trial’s hung jury.
Before Ellis’ drama unfolded, Baggio Kristidi Decourcey Daniel, of Block 1A Factory Avenue, Wildey, St Michael, became the island’s first convicted murderer who did not receive an automatic appointment with the gallows.
“There is no more mandatory death penalty so the process that we took before – all the elaborate sirens and the feet not touching the ground – that is not necessary any longer . . . You can do that if he is sentenced by the court but not at the stage of being found guilty. So we will cease doing that, please,” Madam Justice Jacqueline Cornelius told prison officials.
During the year the two men responsible for the September 3, 2010 Campus Trendz fire that took the lives of six young women re-emerged on the legal landscape.
Death row inmate Jamar Dwayne Bynoe, of Headley’s Land, Bank Hall, St Michael, appealed his indictment on the charges saying it was “inappropriate” when compared to that of his co-accused Renaldo Anderson Alleyne. The decision on that appeal is pending. While Bynoe faced the Court of Appeal, Alleyne approached the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Sentenced to six concurrent life terms, the confessed manslayer found out that he must serve a minimum 25 years behind bars before any consideration can be given to release him. It was the first time a recommendation was made about the minimum time a prisoner serving a life sentence in Barbados should remain in jail before being eligible for release.
In a year that saw unprecedented murders, especially by the gun, Government amendment the Bail Act, a move which did not sit well with some attorneys.
Now, anyone facing a murder charge will only be considered for bail after they have spent 24 months in custody, except in special circumstances.
The amended act reads: “ . . . In any case where a person is charged with murder, treason and high treason or an offence under the Firearms Act which is punishable with imprisonment of ten years or more that such a person shall not be granted bail unless 24 months have passed.”
The island’s chief legal adviser stated: “We know that dealing with the Bail Act this way will not solve all of our problems but I am convinced it will go a long way in bringing some order to our streets . . . .There are a number of young men and perhaps young women who because of the prevailing notion that: ‘Yuh gine get bail; doan hurt yuh head’. There are a number of them who are saying: ‘I gine do wha’ I gotta do and in six months I gine be back out’. No Sir, yuh ain gine get bail in no three to four months anymore cause we are starting yuh off up there at 24 months.”
While a chorus of lawmakers, many of them lawyers, cheered the amendments, their practising colleagues of the Bar made arguments of disapproval. The consensus – the move was reactionary, as it was the legal principle that a person was presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Another legal highlight of the year that garnered public interest was the disbarment of attorney-at-law Joyce Griffith by the Court of Appeal. She was found guilty of misappropriating the proceeds from a sale of property for a client.
Months later her fellow colleague at the Bar Vonda Pile went on trial and was found guilty by a jury of stealing thousands of dollars, also from a client, which were to be used to purchase property. Pile, a well-known defence attorney, was sentenced to three years in jail.
Marksman Richard Delisle Arthur, the brother of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, spent a short stint on remand at Dodds after he was found guilty of illegal possession of ammunition. He was later released due to health-related issues and is awaiting his fate.
Meanwhile, drug charges against prominent businessman Charles Herbert went no further than the magistrates’ court after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) dropped the charges against him on the grounds of a lack of evidence. However, his counterpart and co-accused Christopher Glen Rogers as well Walter Prescod will have to face a judge and jury in connection with a drug bust at the Bridgetown Port in July 2018.
Business magnate, Asha Ms Ram Mirchandani twice went to the High Court against the Government and lost.
In September Ms Ram withdrew her challenge to a court order that her Casa Grande Hotel pay thousands of dollars in arrears to the Barbados Water Authority (BWA). Months later she suffered another loss, this time in connection with her Bay Street-based Liquidation Centre.
Ms Ram declared “shock” and “pain” as she rushed to meet a deadline to make way for high-rise hotel development on Bay Street, even as she declared that negotiations were still in progress when Government ordered her to immediately vacate the property.
However, the Attorney General stated the courts denied an injunction to stall the closure and that “the company then sought a stay of execution, which the court also rejected”.
Away from the Whitepark Road, Supreme Court complex, Lieutenant David Harewood was dismissed from the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) after a military panel found him guilty of two charges. Harewood, who served in the BDF for 18 years and whose rank was equivalent to captain, was charged with neglecting to inform his superiors of a threat to the life of a junior member and engaging in conduct unbecoming of a commissioned officer.