The People’s Party for Democracy and Development (PdP) has accused the Mia-Mottley Government of using the ongoing state of emergency along with its overwhelming majority in Parliament to move towards “unilateral authoritarian rule”.
During a press conference on National Heroes’ Day, the party’s spokesperson on law and governance Maria Phillips took issue with what she called “dangerous” approaches to justice reform being rolled out, citing last Friday’s tabling of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020.
The lawmakers had also drawn the ire of the Barbados Bar Association and other senior attorneys who charged that there were no consultations on the critical legislation.
The Bill abolishes the requirement for a unanimous jury verdict for murder and the right of an accused to make an unsworn statement from the dock in an indictable case among other things.
Noting that there were at least forty attorneys representing the Government in both Houses of Parliament, Phillips expressed disappointment with how the matter was handled, charging that it was a deliberate attempt to sneak sweeping changes through Parliament’s proverbial back door.
“Why is it being done now? Why must it be done in the middle of a public health emergency state? It makes you wonder what other things Parliament will want to bring to pass as legislation while we are in this state,” said Phillips.
“We, therefore, must ask if our democracy is in peril, where the fundamental freedoms of civic engagement and institutions representative of people’s participation in the process are not seen to be safeguarded. This question is a legitimate one. A large parliamentary majority should never be used to open the door to what appears to be the authoritarian rule of this administration,” the PdP spokeswoman declared.
She went on to explain that changing the legislation was no light matter, explaining that trial by jury comes out of a system in which citizens deliberate and participate and therefore such matters have to be aired and deliberated with various interest groups, including the Bar Association to develop a system that works.
Phillips further argued that such major changes could have adverse effects on the rights of criminal defendants who are not unanimously found guilty.
“The pros and cons of that kind of system would have to be aired and deliberated and having a judge-only trial must be examined in relation to the expectations of the accused,” said Phillips.
“We would also reiterate that legislation should not be used as a guise for circumventing the deeper prevailing issues, which surround reform of the justice system in Barbados. This can only happen through the engagement of stakeholders in civil society, the bar association, and other institutions whose input would be integral to crafting solutions to the many issues plaguing the legal system in Barbados,” she added.
The PdP spokesperson then went on to tackle Attorney General Dale Marshall for publicly chiding Magistrate Graveney Bannister.
Last week, Bannister describe the Emergency Management (Covid-19) Curfew No 3 Directive that governs the current curfew as ‘badly drafted’.
In a statement, Marshall said the magistrate was trespassing on matters of the executive and/or legislative branches of Government.
But Phillips argued that Bannister was simply exercising his professional competence and did not deserve the “public rebuke” meted out from the AG.
“We understood that the magistrate did not undermine the legislature, nor did he seek to promote its noncompliance. It was simply a matter of indicating that there was a likelihood of misunderstanding in the way the order was drafted.
“But what transpired [from the AG] was a public rebuke and an affront to the magistrate’s professional competence to make constructive comments where there seems to be some ambiguity both potential and real in the application of the laws,” she added.