Friday, March 1, 2024

EDITORIAL: Overhaul justice system


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The verdict delivered by Sir Roy Marshall in the last Weekend NATION is a powerful indictment of aspects of the local justice system which made for difficult reading for those of us who believe in our country’s governance and wish it always to be projected as a candidate for first-world status.
Sir Roy declared that in “a well regulated and run country, prisoners should not be on remand for periods that were sometimes in excess of what their sentences might have been”.
The experienced jurist said one of his “constant preoccupations is the state of the administration of justice in Barbados, and for that matter much of the Caribbean. To be brutally frank, I think our present system has deteriorated to the point that is embarrassing”.
These strictures are a reasonable reflection on what appears to be happening in these parts, and Sir Roy’s statement should cause all law-abiding citizens to sit up and take notice, especially when we realize that some of these accused persons may well be acquitted after trial.
However one looks at it, the chance of an injustice looms large because accused persons are entitled under the supreme law of the Constitution to a timely and fair trial, and justice delayed is justice denied. In the face of reported periods on remand of up to six and seven years before trial, something must be done to jolt us out of our complacency.
Perhaps it is the case that the machinery for ensuring speedy trials is deficient, or it may be a matter of the need for more magistrates and judges. We feel that it is a combination of causes. More magistrates and judges will mean more physical courtrooms and the other resources necessary for speeding up the process.
It may also mean an improved and expanded police force with greater law enforcement capacity, for very often a police prosecutor has to ask for an adjournment on the grounds that he may not have a file on the particular case or some other bureaucratic snafu.
Perhaps, too, some inertia may have overtaken the system, and what may now be needed is a systemic overhaul so that every aspect of the criminal justice system can be so oiled that the machinery works smoothly.
The Courts, including the Privy Council, are not unaware of the problems but a certain reality has to be recognized because national budgets are always under pressure, and social programmes directed at alleviating the difficulties of the vulnerable groups may displace, albeit temporarily, the claims of the criminal justice system.
Notwithstanding the pressures on the financial system, we urge Government to take the comments of so distinguished a person as Sir Roy Marshall seriously, because the liberty of the subject and his proper treatment when he collides with the coercive power of the state is a matter of primal importance.
That treatment affects people’s lives, and speaks to the respect which we accord our Constitution and how we seek to honour and propound the rule of law which protects all of us and especially those who run afoul of the law.
The matter requires urgent consideration and action, and we are bound to support Sir Roy’s opinion that this is a matter which needs to be settled with alacrity.


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