EDITORIAL: Courting trouble....
Tue, 07/26/2016 - 12:44am
How far, it seems, we have fallen. In the last few years, much attention has been focused on the lamentable state of the dispensation of justice in Barbados, and many people, from professionals to laymen, have expressed their views publicly. Lawyers, magistrates, politicians, business people, and everyday, salt-of-the-earth Barbadian citizens have taken to the fourth estate – the airwaves and the press – and even the fifth estate – the blogs and social media sites of the internet – to condemn the deterioration of our justice system over the past decade in particular.
Complaints range from the shortage of magistrates and judges, to the inefficiencies of the process itself, and misuse of the process by lawyers (e.g. seeking to strategically delay action), to the deplorable state of some facilities, all of which result in interminable delays in getting cases to court, and in getting cases which reach the courts completed within a reasonable time frame; all of which result in justice delayed, and therefore justice denied.
The harm caused by a failing judicial system – and we see ample evidence that our system is failing – goes well beyond the obvious costs associated with the participants in any legal actions, i.e., the accuser, accused and their legal representation. Burgeoning legal costs, the inability to act until a court decision is handed down – these are all self-evident consequences. However, bottle-necks in any system or process create significant pressure on the administration of the process itself, and Barbados’ economic situation surely does not easily allow for any solution that includes throwing more people – administrative clerks, magistrates and judges – at the problem. There is also the effect on the management of crime on the island – we are already hearing how the number of inmates on remand at our prison exceeds the number of sentenced inmates – so that our ability to contain the criminal element in society is now at risk, as is the concept of prison as a deterrent, by extension. Then, there is the disincentive that delays and uncertainty in the judicial system create for our Police Force, complicating their job, and frustrating their efforts.
It is in the economic arena, however, that the national damage is at its greatest potential. As economic prosperity is the lifeblood of civilised society, so is foreign investment and local reinvestment the lifeblood of economic prosperity. Investors want to see stability, and a failing justice system does not promote stability. Investors want to know that, if there is need for legal action, the justice system will work smoothly and with reasonable speed to ensure a sustainable resolution. They want to know that they can rely on justice being dispensed, and that the integrity of the justice system is beyond reproach.
Has Barbados reached the stage where those assurances can no longer be confidently given? We think not, but there can be no denying that we are perilously close to the unthinkable, and that the current state of deterioration in our justice system is untenable.
The situation calls for urgent and decisive action, based on solutions forged by the political directorate, the judicial branch, practisng attorneys, and the civil servant administrators, with international professional help if required. “Justice denied” is not an acceptable epithet to describe the judicial system in a country in its 50th year of independence – especially one whose judicial system was once held in high esteem.