The names Robert Archbald, Robert Frederick Collins, Martin Thomas Manton, Mark Ciavarella and Thomas Maloney might mean very little to most Barbadians. These men had certain qualities in common at varying stages of their lives. They were highly educated, respected in their communities, considered to be of impeccable character, associated with the well-to-do in society and were seen as role models by many. But they also had two other qualities in common that defined them more than anything else. They were all American judges – some working the appellate circuit – and they were all criminals.
Archbald and Collins were convicted for accepting bribes and Manton for conspiracy to defraud the United States government. Ciavarella sent thousands of juveniles to one specific detention centre for the most trivial of offences in exchange for millions of dollars from the facility which benefited from state funding for having to maintain the inmates. Maloney was convicted of racketeering, bribery and extortion. In a few instances he ‘fixed’ murder cases, including one situation where he paid another judge to ensure that a man charged for murder was acquitted. But what does all of this have to do with the Barbados jurisdiction?
These stories are not unique to the United States of America. There are similar instances of corrupt judges in Britain, Canada, throughout Latin and South America, Asia, Europe and Africa. In most, if not every instance, when reports and accusations are made, and investigations conducted, the common thread found is the huge wealth these criminal judges accumulated that was not commensurate with the salaries they were making or any known legitimate investment in which they were principals. Authorities followed the money trail and invariably it was paved with criminal conspiracy, chicanery and corruption. And this brings us to Barbados’ Integrity In Public Life Bill, 2020.
We cast no aspersions on members of the local bench past, present or future. But we note occurrences on a global scale and since Barbados is part of that global village, we question seriously Government’s decision to exempt judges in Barbados’ jurisdiction from declaring their assets. It makes absolutely no sense. Not only from the point of view that no one is infallible or should be held above the legislation, but from the position that if Government is purporting to be championing integrity and accountability in public life, why the step back? Why should one segment of the society with the potential to make life-altering decisions for the future of Barbadian citizens be exempted from such scrutiny? With the rule of law so important in almost every facet of our human interactions, those in the judicial system with such immense power are precisely the individuals whose financial acquisitions should be screened to ensure commonality with their salaries and/or legal investments or inheritances.
What makes the decision to exempt judges from declaring their assets even more ridiculous is that all lawyers are potential judges. Is not the history of Barbados replete with examples of dishonest lawyers who have either been convicted of theft or allowed to repay their clients’ monies which they misappropriated? Have there not been accusations of lawyers coming into property titles belonging to their deceased clients whose relatives are still trying to recover those assets? Have there not been reports of insurance settlements sitting on the accounts of unscrupulous lawyers collecting interest and who dawdle in paying their clients? In some instances, haven’t some clients departed this earth while their settlements remain secure in the hands of the new inheritors?
The point is that Barbadians should consider themselves fortunate when dishonest lawyers are nipped in the bud early. Because of inherent progression in the profession, those dishonest lawyers had the scope to be elevated through years of service to the seat of a magistrate or a judge. Have we taken the time to wrap our brains around the possibility that perhaps not all corrupt lawyers have been nipped in the bud and career advancement looms, perhaps to the seat of the High Court, Appeals Court or further?
We are aware that during debate on this legislation last week, Prime Minister Mia Mottley asserted that she was in favour of all members of the bench having to declare their assets. And she was correct to make that point but at the end of the day it seemed that she ceded that final decision to another entity. “There was a great deal of debate as to whether we should include judges in this bill. I am conscious that while initially, Sir David [Simmons] agreed that he saw no reason why they should be exempted in the legislation, I am told that subsequent deliberations of the Committee and consultation with him and others have suggested that we will not include judges in this bill.”
We believe Miss Mottley ought to have been guided by her convictions and what she clearly believed was the appropriate thing to do. We appreciate that there was wide consultation and decision-making on the issue but the buck stops at the country’s leader. Magistrates and the constitutionally protected Auditor General and the Director of Public Prosecutions must declare their assets. They hold powerful positions in our society. But they pale in comparison to the clout and influence wielded by judges. We should not have ignored global, historical examples.
One Reply to “#BTEditorial – We should learn from history; not ignore it”
Hear hear Barbados Today. There must be no group of individuals above the law, regardless of their role or position in Barbados society. One must question the motivation for the proposed omission of judges from this requirement; what strings are being pulled here, and to what are they attached?