President of the Barbados Bar Association (BBA) Rosalind Smith-Millar is in total agreement with Prime Minister Mia Mottley that the island’s judicial system is in need of reform.
However, with regard to Mottley’s criticism that the
criminal system was moving too slowly, Smith-Millar said the COVID-19 pandemic had caused significant delays in cases being heard.
Speaking on radio call-in programme Down to Brasstacks on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said she still was not satisfied at the speed with which cases were moving through the court system, despite more judges being added in 2019.
But Smith-Millar told Barbados TODAY the pandemic had greatly delayed hearings in the last two years.
“We’ve had two-plus years of COVID, and at times the criminal courts in particular were completely shut down thanks to COVID. You can’t bring a whole set of people into a courtroom – you have witnesses, you have the counsel, you have the judge, you have the marshals, you have the clerk – so there were times when COVID prevented the courts from being open.
“You can’t just fix one aspect of a whole system of administration of justice and expect it to have this magical ripple effect and the whole system will be fixed because you fixed one thing. Yes, we needed more judges and yes, we have them but that’s just one thing,” Smith-Millar contended.
“Remember when you are dealing with the criminal system you have the police, you have the court prosecutors in the DPP’s office as well as on the police side, sometimes you need to have a presentencing report, so it is a whole eco-system and if every part of it has problems you can’t just fix one and expect magic to happen.”
However, the BBA president agreed that reform was necessary. She suggested that there were still too many instances of time being wasted and called for better use of technology to increase efficiency.
“We have to use technology more. We have to implement the things that have been talked about for years, such as recording people’s statements on video and not just writing something that when you read it obviously the person doesn’t speak like that and they possibly couldn’t have written it themselves,” Smith-Millar contended.
“From the time you start bringing people into court two and three times to deal with a speeding ticket, a parking ticket, you’re wasting people’s time. You need to change the law and implement procedures that deal with those things in a way that is a deterrent to people who would break the law, but it doesn’t waste a lot of administrative time to enforce the law.
“If you sit down in Traffic Court, you would see how much time is wasted because you have to send somebody with a summons to find the person to serve them, to get them to court in the first place, and then you have how many cases in a day and you may not be able to hear all of them and people have to come back. So we have to find ways to leverage technology to eliminate some of the manual analog processes so as to increase efficiency,” she added.
Efforts to reach Chief Justice Sir Patterson Cheltenham for comment proved unsuccessful up to press time.