Over the past few years, having monitored the deliberations in the Magistrates’ Courts, we have come to the conclusion that Douglas Frederick is among the best court officials in the island, if not the best. We have stated this before and have no reason to distance ourselves from this position. But he, like many judicial officers serving this country, needs help. And no one seems to be providing it.
Earlier in the week, he was caught in an embarrassing situation – not of his making – when defence counsels attempted to pressure him into dismissing criminal charges against seven alleged thugs brought before the court for violent crimes that involved the use of firearms. He had made the promise to the accused’s attorney that a specific date would be the final adjournment. The police investigators were to present disclosure documents to the defence counsel on that day and Mr Frederick took them at their word. How wrong he was! Thankfully, he did not buckle to the pressure but gave another adjournment date.
Where the administration of criminal justice is concerned on this island, it has become a laughing stock to many hardened felons and those planning to commit serious crimes. And why is this? The system stinks! In any first-world jurisdiction, heads would have long rolled with respect to the deficiencies in the Royal Barbados Police Force where the production of files and other documents related to cases they investigate is concerned. But while we talk blarney about “punching above our weight” and aspiring towards first-world status spouted by quixotic politicians, one of the foundations of any democracy – law and order – in which both the police and the courts are involved is broken. The appointment of more judges or magistrates serves no purpose if they have no work before them to do.
This is a small society and if the average citizen follows the goings-on in our courts and the previously imprisoned thug next-door who suddenly appears back in the society without trial, it is often a situation of the case being dismissed for lack of prosecution. Or, the court has been forced to grant the most vicious felons bail because after upwards of five, six or more years, the prosecution cannot start the case. Our investigations show that there are multiple murderers, robbers, rapists and other felons, walking the streets and committing more crimes because some in authority are simply not doing their jobs. And most of the time average citizens are the victims who have to face their attackers on the street after the system flops. Will it take the victim to be a member of the local gentry or political class for authorities to take action in this situation? Some years ago a member of that class found he and his wife’s home being invaded. The perpetrators were swiftly apprehended, case files completed and three accused imprisoned post-haste. But we cannot all be aligned to the nouveau riche or Vieux riche.
The Commissioner of Police must hold his officers accountable for the inefficiencies at police stations around the island and in the Court Prosecutors Office. The commissioner’s office ought to be held accountable by the Attorney General if the madness continues. The Attorney General should be called to account by the Prime Minister if the status quo remains untenable. And if the Prime Minister does not hold those in high office responsible, then the people’s noise and disgust with this situation should be heard to high heavens. Alas, no one is held accountable and the infelicities and deficiencies in the system continue. And this situation persists because Barbadians in many cases cannot see past their political noses and rush to defend self-serving politicians and others when the opposite is required.
Folk in communities such as the New Orleans affected by frequent shootings and other violent acts, beg for the presence of soldiers and more police. But not only is this unsustainable after the initial walk-through and public show of force, the likelihood is that when criminals are taken off the streets, negligence and sloth in the system place them back among law-abiding citizens. But we expect that at month-end, everyone contributing to this mess will gather to collect his or her salary.
The term “corruption” has been bandied about gratuitously in Barbados over the past few months. But what can be more corrupt in our social relations than persons in authority being paid for work they are not doing?
Good luck, Magistrate Frederick!