Submitted by Heather Cole
In the game of cricket, there is no victory without a challenge. In athletics no race is won without a challenge and in the court of law, no precedent can ever be set without a challenge.
Two recent occurrences prompted me to write this article. The first was a call from a lawyer in Barbados about two weeks ago informing me that a sixteen years old case was finally set to be heard. It was one of two cases and there is no light yet at the end of the tunnel for the second case. The second occurrence was the revelation of the court documents relating to the death of Marcelle Smith in an article on the Barbados Underground. The documents in my opinion pointed to a motive for her murder and the persons responsible.
At present the system for the delivery of justice in Barbados leaves a lot to be desired and that is putting it mildly. No one should have to wait 16 years for a case to be heard. There has been enough time for those responsible for the administration of the system to over haul it and come up with a creative and transparent process for cases to be heard. It leads one to question the management of the system from which justice for the entire population is to be delivered. Are there checks and balances to ensure that all cases are heard in a timely manner? Are there cases lying around in or on some desks catching dusk? Is there a prevailing corruption in the system that warrants the need for a regulator whose duty it is to ensure that all cases are heard in a timely manner? One can also question the effectiveness of the position of the Ombudsman. By now the Attorney General should have created an instrument to define the period within which a case must be heard. I am positive that this would help reduce the backlog in the system. Are there enough Judges, magistrates and cases managers and do they work 8 hours per day? The time has come for a person to be able to track the movement of their case on line that way they will be in a better position to seek a resolution to any bottlenecks that that are inherently in the system. They must be penalties, fines and disbarment to practice for anyone circumventing the process of justice regardless to who they are.
With regards to the emails sent by Mrs. Smith to her Attorney, I was shocked to read the contents and I queried why Vernon Smith and Hal Gollop had entered the deceased property and interrogating a man with dementia. It was a house not a court or a law office or a police station. They had no right being there to conduct legal matters uninvited and that it was most unconventional to bring the police to add credibility to their deed. Protocol should have dictated these learned lawyers to schedule a meeting with her attorney present since she had responsibility for her husband. This case in itself raises many issues highlighted above and it makes one wonder if it will ever be heard since two high profile member of the legal community are involved. However, one also wonders how the revelation of their meeting with Mrs. Smith will impact their credibility with the public of Barbados and if this case is not heard will it justify that some people are above the law or that there is in fact no law.
The above are just two examples but I am sure that there are many more cases out there. Every right thinking Barbadian and those who the judicial system has failed must come together to challenge the system. We are in an era to have a Class Action Suit against the Attorney General, the Chief Justice and the Ombudsman with regards to the administration of justice. Is there any attorney out there who is up to this task?
Paradoxically, two of the reasons set forth to end the jurisdiction of the British Privy Council over the former colonies of the British West Indies can now be put forth regarding the legal system in Barbados. There are the unpopularity of the decisions and the perception that the system has too much power. Can it be that the deeply entrenched partiality now makes the legal system inadequate? It sets forth an argument for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to expand its scope to become a local court of the jurisdiction.
One hopes that we the citizens of Barbados can petition to amend its constitution to allow local cases of Barbados or the region to be heard and be not only limited to CARICOM matters or act as an Appellate Court. The petition to the CCJ can also request that it includes the practice of law in its disadvantaged sector and amend that sector include lawyers. Or, by some other measure allow all lawyers to practice across its jurisdiction in any member state. This is intended to create one Bar Association within the jurisdiction that will allow a lawyer in Jamaica or Trinidad to accept a case in Barbados or vice versa without fear of victimization. Therefore one should seek to find out if this problem of Barbados is being experienced in Jamaica, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago.
Another outlook is that since the present judicial system is not serving the best interest of the masses, one wonders if the people of Barbados can by way of referendum be given an option to have their cases heard locally or by the CCJ by-passing the present court system.
The question that we must all ask ourselves is if Barbadians have to die awaiting justice or should they be assured of justice in Barbados or allowed to have their cases heard by the CCJ. In the final analysis, our problem can be resolved by competition and the establishment of a regional local court. To this end it is my intent to find out what is happening in the other islands for which the CCJ has jurisdiction. However, with or without the other territories, seek dialogue with the CCJ and petition them and the Government of Barbados from the Barbados Lobby to extend the scope and services of the CCJ to hear local cases of the people of Barbados. I hope that all who have been disadvantaged by the court system will join in this effort. Your comments and or assistance are welcomed.