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Take back courts from lawyers, PM Gonsalves tells judges, magistrates

by Barbados Today
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A regional leader has accused criminal defence lawyers in the Caribbean of deliberately delaying cases and chastised the judiciary for allowing it to happen.
St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said it was time for judges and magistrates to take back their courts, as he asserted that lawyers were now the ones in control.
“The criminal justice system in this region, from my observation, is increasingly becoming controlled by lawyers practising criminal law. We all know that the oxygen of the legal profession is money and lawyers use delays in the court system in order to have trials adjourned and adjourned and adjourned, and they complain about how long the trial takes,” he said.
“Sometimes it may be an absence of enough resources, and I’m not denying that, but too many judges have allowed too many lawyers who practise criminal law to control the court system under the guise of protecting the rights of the accused person who, in fact, is entitled constitutionally to the presumption of innocence [and] to a fair trial before an independent tribunal within a reasonable time, and nobody would wish to undermine any of those constitutional protections.
“But those constitutional protections cannot and do not mean that you must take a long time over a trial and give adjournments after adjournment and witnesses migrate and memories fade and a lot of times you have to withdraw the prosecution because delay is part of the defence,” Gonsalves added.
He was addressing the second day of the Regional Symposium on Violence as a Public Health Issue – The Crime Challenge at the Hyatt Regency in Trinidad and Tobago.
“There are criminal trials now having the kind of pretrial case management for one of the largest kinds of civil cases. When I used to practise law 30 years ago before the criminal courts, we didn’t have that sort of thing happening but it’s taking place now,” he said.
The Vincentian leader pointed out that citizens were rightly concerned about these delays.
“And if a politician opens his mouth and says it, they say you’re interfering in the independence of the judiciary. I say that justice is not a cloistered virtue and just as I am subject to reasonable criticism, judges themselves and magistrates must be subjected to reasonable criticism. It is not a contempt of court so to do,” he argued.
Touching on the illegal gun and drug trade across the Caribbean, Gonsalves said proceeds from the illicit activities were “being laundered in respectable companies” such as restaurants and supermarkets and it was important to follow the money.
“We have a lot of regulations, a lot of laws dealing with money laundering. If you make a lot of money off importing drugs illegally, when you sell the drugs you get foreign currency. You can’t change the foreign currency easily or lodge it in the banks. So it has to be cleaned somewhere else and it is often cleaned in perfectly respectable enterprises…where it is very difficult to say where this money comes from,” he said.
“I am speaking about some very uncomfortable things, but we are not going to address this problem very seriously unless we speak of uncomfortable things and take action regionally in relation to these uncomfortable matters,” Prime Minister Gonsalves added.
(JB)

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