MP calls for speedier resolution of court cases

While the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) has thrown its support behind the amendment to the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act, an Opposition Member of Parliament has raised concern about the length of time it takes for matters to be heard by the courts.

Former Attorney General and Member of Parliament for St. Joseph, Dale Marshall, told the Lower House that the move by the amendment to reduce the timeframe for an ex-offender to have his or her record expunged is a good one, giving those who have turned their lives around the opportunity to get a clean record. But, he warned that it amounts to nothing in the end if the wheel of justice in this country continues to move at a slow pace. Contending that justice delayed is justice denied, Marshall maintained that there was a need for a serious debate to be had on the criminal justice system and how to improve it.

“A justice system that has ground to a halt can no longer claim to be any kind of justice system at all. This Bill, according to the Attorney General, he said it is intended to reduce the timeframe for an individual to be able to have his record expunged, the Opposition has no quarrel with that,” he said.

Marshall added, “If you reduce a seven-year period after being convicted of a criminal offence to three years, if it takes you ten years to go to trial, what good is that?
He contended that an individual who has to wait a decade, with a criminal charge hovering over their head, is an individual for who the Bill is “nothing but smoke and mirrors”.

“An individual was recently convicted of embezzling in the region of a million from the Psychiatric Hospital. The offence was committed in 2007, the matter came to trial in 2017, he was convicted and now has to serve a term of imprisonment… The longer it takes you to get to trial then the longer it takes for you to be able to benefit from any kind of expungement of records under this legislation,” he stated.

The former Attorney General went further, suggesting the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should give priority to serious crimes in this country such as murder and rape, to ensure those cases make their way to court in the shortest possible time.

“We need the DPP’s Office to be able to prioritise cases… The DPP is the beneficiary of constitutional protection and cannot be given any direction, and that Madam Deputy Speaker that is as it should be. But in the same way that the Chief Town Planner’s Department and other Government departments whether it be the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Housing, in the same way that their day-to-day business is prioritised, in my view the work of the Office of the DPP should similarly be prioritised,” he said.

Marshall added, “When an individual is charged with most heinous of criminal offences but it takes five and six and eight years before the matter goes to trial, who is that damaging? That individual has hovering over his head like the sword of Damocles, an offence of a severe kind and he ought to have the earliest opportunity to defend himself before his peers in court.”

Marshall further contended that given what appears to be a spate of gun crimes in Barbados, he is even more convinced that the DPP’s Office should take a serious look at the workload they have and give priority to serious crimes. He said while the holder of the office of the DPP cannot be told how to do his or her job, he believed that fast tracking certain cases would be in the best interest the court system and the country in general.

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