With the bar association peeved over the Government’s “failure” to consult them prior to introducing a contentious bill to drastically change the criminal justice system, the Attorney General Dale Marshall has promised to meet with the legal fraternity soon.
Responding to a query from Barbados TODAY as to how soon he planned to meet, Marshall replied: “At the earliest possible opportunity.”
On April 25, the Government introduced in the House of Assembly the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 that would amend six other laws. Among other things, it would abolish the requirement for a unanimous jury verdict for murder and the right of an accused person to make an unsworn statement from the dock in an indictable case.
With those two provisions being of greatest concern to the Bar, the association is in the process of canvassing its members to hear their concerns and suggestions.
President Rosalind Smith-Millar told Barbados TODAY that once members have given feedback, the Bar will then make a submission to the Attorney General to start the consultative process.
Smith-Millar said: “We canvassed members of the Bar to see what their views are and that process is ongoing. When we have gathered a fair number of cogent comments, then we will submit them as appropriate.
“If coming out of that there is a need for dialogue, a meeting will be arranged. But meeting with the AG is not usually the first step in the consultation. They send us what they are thinking and we put our heads together and organize our thoughts and write down what we want to say; and if, for example, there was a joint select committee of Parliament to hear from the public, then we would go.
“We haven’t heard from the AG, but we have asked our members to let us know what they think.”
Smith-Millar and prominent defence attorney Andrew Pilgrim, QC expressed concern at the Government’s decision to by-pass the Bar and place such a fundamental piece of legislation before the House.
Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY: “They are enacting serious major changes to the criminal justice system. As I understand it, they have changed the requirement for a unanimous jury verdict for certain categories of murder and they have also taken away the right to make an unsworn statement from the dock. Those are the two major sweeping changes for the defence.
“If you are making changes like this, don’t you consult the people you represent, who in this case would be represented by the Bar Association and the general public. Don’t you ask them, ‘how does this affect you; how does this affect your clients; do you have any views on whether this is the right way or the wrong way to go?”
Smith-Millar said she had seen the document for the first time on that day.
She said: “As far as I am aware there was no consultation. If someone was consulted then I wouldn’t be able to say. It was not sent through the Bar as far as I am aware and this has taken us completely by surprise.
“We can’t tell the elective Government what laws to make or not make, but something that is this fundamental to the criminal justice system I would like to think that the Bar would have been given the opportunity to look at it, consider it and make comments on it.
“I am not aware that has happened. It may be that particular lawyers were consulted, if that happened I don’t know, but I am not aware of any consultation with the Bar Association.”
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