Saturday, April 13, 2024

EDITORIAL: Bishop Gordon hit bullseye on guns

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WHILE ADDRESSING the monthly meeting of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry on Tuesday, Catholic Bishop of Barbados Jason Gordon called for all accused persons on gun possession charges to be tried within a month. We wholeheartedly endorse this suggestion from the senior cleric.

We believe it is an approach that is absolutely necessary at this time as we strive to deal with two now pervasive societal problems – the absolutely slow pace at which our judicial system works, resulting in a huge backlog of criminal and civil cases, and the apparently easy access so many members of our society have to illegal guns and the fact that they appear to have little inhibition when it comes to using them.

What Bishop Gordon has also done is reinforce the point that while our criminal justice system is run by lawyers, suggestions for its improved operation do not only reside in the bosom of that fraternity.

Individuals from all segments of the society interact with and are affected by the actions or inactions of the judicial system, and are therefore quite often well placed to make meaningful suggestions.

“As leaders, the rising crime and violence should be on your front burner to influence all parties to do everything possible to deal with this,” the bishop said.

“If we could fast-track the handling of firearm cases in the courts to ensure that everyone charged was tried within four weeks, I am sure we could get  past this national challenge.

“This requires leadership. It requires us moving beyond our apathy. It requires of us working with Government and exploring options and encouraging a successful solution. A successful outcome will create hope.”

We could not agree with the bishop more. And once careful thought is given to what he said it is not hard to see how with some creativity we could almost immediately achieve substantial results. As we see it, if an individual is arrested with a firearm after committing a robbery, it could take months, or years, for the matter to reach the court beyond the initial lodging of the charges.

Quite often the reason given is that the prosecution is not yet ready to proceed, most of the time because the police investigation is ongoing. We understand such matters can be quite extensive given the need for multiple interviews and witness statements, forensic examinations and the reports that result etc., as well as the need for advice and/or direction from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

But what if, as Bishop Gordon suggested, the authorities concentrated on immediately lodging and trying the possession of an illegal firearm charge. Surely even if the accused pleads not guilty, the presentation of the gun as an exhibit and the testimony of police witnesses on the circumstances of the arrest with the firearm should be enough to secure a successful prosecution. And as far as we are aware, proceeding with one charge does not cancel the Crown’s right to pursue any others that may arise from the same crime.

And since a convicted criminal has no entitlement to bail, it would get some of these miscreants off our streets.

Is this what now happens with illegal drugs? Someone arrives at the Grantley Adams International Airport and illegal drugs are found in their luggage and within weeks the case is fully adjudicated. Granted most of these cases end with the accused pleading guilty, but the point is that the way these are treated allow for a more expeditious disposal of the case.

Maybe there will have to be some change in existing laws to allow gun possession charges to be heard summarily by magistrates rather than at the High Court, and perhaps another look would have to be taken at the penalties available at that level. But we believe it should be much easier to adjust the laws to improve efficiency than some of the more costly suggestions already on the table, including an increase in the number of judges, magistrates and courts, although it is clear that this option also has to be considered.

As Bishop Gordon said: “This requires leadership. It requires us moving beyond our apathy…”

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