Barbados’ judicial system has come in for yet another tongue-lashing from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
The latest in a series of criticisms of the decisions made by local courts as well as lengthy delays in determining cases featured prominently when this country’s final appellate court delivered its written reasons, on July 1, for a ruling it made two months prior.
The CCJ, in that matter, ruled against Beverly Norville, a parent who went before the Court of Appeal here to challenge her June 2015 criminal conviction by a magistrate for using abusive language, causing a disturbance and threatening to burn down Dottin’s Academy Incorporated. She had contended that the all-boys private secondary school had no authority to bring a prosecution against her.
According to the facts of the case outlined by the CCJ, on May 19, 2009, Norville gave three months’ notice that she would be withdrawing her son as a student of Dottin’s Academy. One month later, the school expelled the child without giving her an expected refund.
In response, Norville went to the school and engaged in a “cuss-out” in view of students and teachers.
Dottin’s Academy Inc. brought legal action against Norville at the Magistrates’ Court, and she was found guilty of the charges.
The mother appealed that decision at the Court of Appeal in Barbados and persuaded that court that the school, as a private entity, lacked the authority to bring a prosecution against her.
However, the CCJ, in a judgment delivered by Justice Denys Barrow, reaffirmed the common law right of private persons to prosecute for a criminal offence. The general principle was that any person could bring such a prosecution and they did not require any authorization to do so.
Justice Barrow took a turn in the local Court of Appeal, which was then led by Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, declaring that, regrettably, it fundamentally misdirected itself on the facts and the law related to “standing”.
He said that in relation to the facts, the judgment stated that the incident occurred in 1999.
“This was wrong; it occurred in 2009. Earlier in the judgment, twice the correct date was stated, and it is puzzling that in the final part the court got it so wrong,” the CCJ judge said.
“This, however, was not a slip that could be corrected, as counsel for Ms Norville urged, under the ‘slip rule’, which permits the correction of clerical slips or errors. It was not such a slip because, as a result of the error, the Court of Appeal concluded that at the time of the incident, Dottin’s Academy Incorporated did not exist. This was wrong; that entity was incorporated in 2007, two years before the incident.”
The local courts also came under scrutiny from Justice Winston Anderson.
The CCJ judge observed that the complaints were laid at the Magistrates’ Court more than three months after the event.
“But it gets worse. Much worse. Having convicted Ms Norville, the learned Magistrate did not pass sentence then and there. The Record of Appeal discloses that no further action was taken with regard to sentencing since counsel for the accused lodged an appeal. I am unclear as to what this disclosure was meant to convey. There was certainly no legal impediment to passing sentence promptly,” Justice Anderson said.
He, too, weighed in on the handling of the case by the Court of Appeal.
Justice Anderson noted that judgment was delivered on October 29, 2020, well over five years after the Notice of Appeal was lodged, and more than three years after the appeal itself was heard on September 20, 2016.
“With the greatest of respect, this delay was extravagant in a simple case such as this, especially since it was unaccompanied by any explanation or apology. That delay may well have contributed to the egregious errors particularized by my brother in his judgment.
“In any case, the decision of the Court of Appeal to uphold the in limine submission that Dottin’s Academy lacked standing to institute the information before the Magistrate, which decision has not survived the scrutiny of this court, has created a serious dilemma,” the judge declared.
Attorneys Ajamu Boardi, Yasmin Brewster and Alicia Dells appeared for the appellant, Dottin’s Academy, while Peta-Gay Lee-Brace and Sumaya Desai represented Norville, the respondent.