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by C. M Bellamy
I have a great deal of respect for the judiciary of Barbados.
But this is not to say that there are not some infelicities that exist. The slow nature of adjudication and getting legal redress is so poor at times, that it has drawn criticisms from the Caribbean Court of Justice.
However, we have made a step in the right direction with the appointment of Patterson Cheltenham as the Chief Justice.
He is an exceptional man with an excellent legal brain and is a great stickler for efficiency. He is a major upgrade on his predecessor and I expect him to be one of the region’s best in that post.
There is something I have previously meant to state and didn’t but feel obligated to address following newspaper reports which I read today and take the time to write to you about now. I read where a sitting judge warned accused about opting for a jury trial “needlessly” when they “know they’re guilty”.
This was reportedly stated by Justice Carlisle Greaves, another individual for whom I have the greatest respect having followed his career while I was in England and when he was a magistrate. But I must caution that the goodly gentleman is wrong to make those comments.
I am no lawyer by any stretch of the imagination but as a septuagenarian I have been around. And I have always been of the view and told by friends who are involved in the law, that a person is innocent until proven guilty. This is a legal tenet.
In other words, the onus is on the prosecution to prove guilt. I have never been told or read anywhere that a person is under an obligation to plead guilty if he or she knows they have committed a crime.
In other words, if a man walks into Fogarty Store and steals an item in front of 15 people, he has the right to go to court, look the magistrate full in the eyes and say “not guilty”.
Why would an officer of the court give the impression that one should plead guilty if one knows one is guilty? This is what was reported in the newspaper as being stated by Mr Greaves. “I keep warning you all about that. He came in here and had a trial and you expect him to get the same thing that a man comes in here and throws in the towel on, that is unlikely.”
The judge explained that these were the type of cases that the defence approaches the prosecutor and see if a deal could be reached.
“But you don’t come in here, take up the taxpayers’ money and go to trial hoping for the best and don’t consider what the worst is. This is the kind of case . . . you come in here, you know you are guilty and you throw yourself at the mercy of the court,” he said.
“Too many of you fellas exposing yourselves to jail in this jurisdiction, too many. A lot of these cases that you all are going to trial with, you should not be going to trial with. You should come . . . and beg for some mercy.
“We can’t try all, we have hundreds of thousands of cases to try. So we have to be merciful in a lot of cases; this is the reality.”
No, no, Mr. Justice Greaves. Your time cannot be wasted if you are in court. You are a judge, that is where you are supposed to be.
If there are thousands of cases to be adjudicated then the authorities must put the framework and resources in place to deal with that. The onus on freeing up the court system and the case load is not on accused persons.
I have never heard such madness in my life. It says something about my Barbados when a law official can publicly make such a statement. I am aware that in almost every jurisdiction, making deals is part of what happens in the system.
But an offer is put to the accused, or his lawyer approaches the prosecution for a deal, and it is done with equal acceptance. But no system should be throwing out ultimatums to accused people that suggests: “if yuh know yuh guilty, plead guilty, because if yuh get find guilty, crapo smoke yuh pipe.”