“OUR justice system has nothing to do with justice.”
These sobering words from outspoken attorney-at-law Andrew Pilgrim as he delivered the featured address during the Rotary Club of Barbados South’s Vocational Awards at the Accra Beach Hotel.
Saying that “someone is asleep at the wheel”, Pilgrim described the system as a “farce, a pantomime” and “a parade of nonsense”. He exhorted that the justice system at present is in no position to punish anyone for up to ten years, and even if a person outright pleads guilty, it could still take over a year before they even make it through the court system.
In fact, he revealed that in his office alone, there are 50 people on bail for murder, adding that the system is collapsing on itself and cases are not moving. He revealed that he has only had one High Court case for the year and only three last year.
“Assuming for the moment that even the most dim-witted criminal at large begins to acknowledge these issues that have been made, nobody is going to plead guilty. They are going to try to get bail and get home. So everybody in the system realises that if you are charged with a serious offence you could wait anything from seven to 12 years for your trial.”
“If I have committed an offence at 21 and I get punished at 30, the impact and the use of that in my opinion is no help to any of us or to any of them. And if we receive no benefit from that punishment, no benefit from the journey – whether they are inside or outside during that period – we get absolutely nothing from that. So that all the policemen working hard to solve crime, crack a case, all of the magistrates, all of the lawyers, the prosecutors, high court judges, court of appeal, CCJ, we ain’t sayin’ nutten!”
In fact, the former president of the Barbados Bar Association says he personally knows of a case where a man is charged with murder, the evidence is heavily stacked up against him and he was considering pleading guilty by taking a manslaughter charge with possible 24 years in jail. However, Pilgrim said, the man has been home “breezing” since the case has not been called for four years.
He said that the suggestion of increased penalties and changing laws and empowering police could help as long as the system works.
The criminal defence attorney also bemoaned the fact that there is a court specifically for traffic offenses. “Why do we have to go to court for a traffic matter? If I am speeding I have to go to court. Why must I go to court? I can’t get a ticket and if I insist that I want a trial, have a trial? Why would I have to go to Court for that?
“So we have a whole magistrate dedicated to traffic cases, in the context that we have 15 000 cases we want to go through. We have a whole magistrate that all he does is traffic. So we waste the talents of someone like [Magistrate] Graveney Bannister, whose talents are limitless. Sitting down just doing traffic. It must frustrate the h*ll out of him,” he said. (JH)