‘Give magistrates more power’
MEMBER of Parliament for St. Philip North Michael Lashley believes that increasing the power of magistrates could help to remove the backlog of cases in the courts of Barbados.
This was one of the many suggestions made by the attorney-at-law as he joined the debate on the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2017 in the Lower Chamber yesterday.
According to Lashley, “We have moved certain offences away from the magistrates such as firearm offences, now sent to the High Court.” He noted that in the past, persons charged with one round of ammunition, for example, would go before a magistrate and the matter would be expedited. He lamented that today; this offence has been moved to the High Court.
“There might come a time that we have to increase the powers of the magistrates, give them enough power to deal with certain types of offences so that matters that normally go before the High Court can be dealt with at the magisterial level.”
He made the point that a case of indecent assault under the Sexual Offences Act, which he described as at the lowest end under the Act, has to go to the High Court. He suggested that these matters be made “hybrid cases” which can be tried in either place, so that magistrates would also have the jurisdiction to deal with these matters.
He also suggested that there may come a time where Barbados will look at speciality judges. “If we want to deal with reform of the Criminal Justice System, let us look for judges who are experienced in the Criminal Law, experienced in the Criminal Justice System, so that when issues come up they will have the wherewithal to deal with them forthwith, so that we wouldn’t have any further delays.”
Lashley also suggested that a closer look be taken at case management and the preparation of files.
“That a person charged with a firearm offence, the possession of a firearm, it’s a question of facts. And if a person charged with a firearm offence, it is the records keeper, it is the police officer, and if the persons gave a statement. So it is probably a three statement file. That can in my mind, be prepared in a night,” he said, adding that matter could get before the Court in two to three weeks.
He made the point that a special prosecutor whether from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution or as in other jurisdictions, on a contractual basis, could come in specifically with cases to deal with the backlog.
The parliamentary representative lamented that there are a number of persons on remand who would have no difficulty in entering an early guilty plea so they can get their matter heard, which would also relieve some of the backlog.
“Plea bargaining is another issue we have to look at too. And an early guilty plea would assist in speeding up the trial and getting persons before the court as soon as possible.”
Lashley also noted that Barbados may soon have to turn to a Witness Protection Programme to ensure that witnesses are comfortable before a judge and jury.