Lawyers practising at the local Bar have welcomed Chief Justice Sir Patterson Cheltenham’s recommendation to overhaul and modernise the judicial system. They say, it’s long overdue.
Barry Gale, King’s Counsel and a council member of the Barbados Bar Association (BBA) said on Thursday that for years respective bar council leaders have unsuccessfully advocated for the modernisation of the judicial system.
“This is nothing new as far as the Bar is concerned. Successive presidents of the bar council have been advocating for years to the judicial council for modernisation of the judicial system and for more resources. In particular, I welcome the imminent appointment of a court administrator. We have reached out to successive Attorneys General to try to get that implemented, without any success for over 10 years now,” Gale said in an interview with Barbados TODAY. In a candid speech on Tuesday, the Chief Justice stressed the need to address severe staff shortages in the judiciary and implement changes to bring the system into the present era.
He also announced plans to appoint a court executive administrator to take over the duties of the Registrar of the Supreme Court so that he or she and the deputy can focus exclusively on legal matters. Sir Patterson disclosed that the post of court executive administrator would be advertised “very shortly,”
“The entire court system has to be overhauled in a planned and systematic manner,” he said.
While welcoming the Chief Justice’s proposals, Gale suggested greater use of modern technology and specialists to operate it.
“With new technology, you need to bring on board people with competence in the areas of technology and court management. Yes, I welcome his comments, but this is long overdue,” the King’s Counsel stated.
Another senior lawyer and former president of the Bar, Andrew Pilgrim, KC also welcomed the CJ’s statements but suggested a need for greater accountability on the part of judicial officers.
“I would say all of these things are important [but] I think you need a degree of accountability of each judicial officer. Each officer needs to know that they are responsible for their court to ensure it works and functions and that the court starts on time in the morning. The perception of the public is that judges don’t work a full week. They have to establish that that is happening, that there is productivity,” Pilgrim, a prominent criminal lawyer contended.
“Judges have to be accountable. Judges have to deliver decisions in a reasonable time. Judges have to be accountable and without that, there will be that lack of confidence which we really have to get to.
“You go and ask something about a case in Barbados if your client paid his fine or whatever, you have to go to some dusty old book…you just can’t enter your client’s name [in a computer]. All the [court] staff have computers. I support the Chief Justice’s comments, but obviously, there are other things we need to do,” Pilgrim suggested.
He contended that for example, the courts shouldn’t set down 30 cases on any given day if only four are possible. “People would be coming to court to get adjournments, especially on the criminal side,” he added.
Another senior criminal lawyer, Michael Lashley said he has always felt that the criminal justice system needs overhauling.
“I support the use of modern technology. I also support the view of empowering magistrates and giving them more power to deal with matters that are basically now clogging up the High Court. In terms of the backlog, there are a lot of people who want to plead guilty and that process is still moving kind of slow,” Lashley KC stated.
He believes there is a need for a prosecutor and a court dedicated to adjudicating those types of criminal cases.
“There are matters that are indictable that can also be dealt with in a hybrid way like indecent assault. Matters of that sort should really be dealt with by a magistrate. We would need to make some amendments to the legislation. And a number of other things we could look at to allow the judges to get on with more serious work,” Lashley reasoned.
Shadia Simpson, another criminal attorney, voiced support for the Chief Justice’s view regarding the need to modernise and overhaul the justice system in Barbados.
“I am pleased to see that he has introduced video hearings to minimise in-person hearings. That is a step in the right direction. Also the introduction of the e-filing platform. That is also a positive move. There are some kinks that need to be worked out where that is concerned, but I guess with the introduction of new technology, you have to expect these things,” Simpson said.
“But we definitely need to modernise, to implement more online platforms to make it easier for the courts. I also agree that there is a shortage of prosecutors and it is evident that the probation office is also understaffed. In respect of the criminal court, if they intend to aggressively deal with the backlog, you would require more attorneys coming to the criminal bar,” she suggested.
The Chief Justice was adamant that if improvements were not made, the public would continue to lambaste the judicial system for its inefficiencies.
“An enquiring public has set its lens on us and there will be no redirection or focus. The judiciary is being asked to account for its stewardship by the taxpayers. This is a profound change from previous years. It was to be expected,” Sir Patterson said.