Magistrate Douglas Frederick is no stranger to the criminal justice system; and it is due to the 23 years of service that he has given, that he believes that the system needs some reform.
While disclosing to his audience at the 42nd Anniversary luncheon of the Lions Club of Barbados North that their view of the criminal justice system may be skewed due to the media, Magistrate Frederick spared a few moments to give an insight as to what is happening.
Speaking to the given topic, Magistrate Frederick expressed concurrence in the Attorney General’s proposal to abolish preliminary inquiries. This movement, he said, was long in coming since it was adopted from Britain and since its adoption, times have changed. For various reasons, these inquiries result in the magistrates and courts being overburdened – which in turn, has resulted in harsh criticisms from the CCJ regarding the length of time it takes for cases to be heard.
Moreover, the hand-written way in which evidence is brought into court, as the Attorney General alluded to last week, delays the system. Magistrate Frederick explained that the magistrates are tasked with writing in long-hand everything each witness says which then has to be taken to a typist to be typed for depositions for the High Court.
Added to that, many cases are adjourned for different reasons. Having files available when needed are a problem as they are hardly ready. Also, offenders may request specific attorneys who are dealing with other matters in the High Court and are therefore unable to attend Magistrates’ Court. Their absence automatically requires an adjournment of the case since choice of representation is a constitutional right. Pre-trial disclosures also play their part in delaying the system. As Magistrate Frederick expounded, this process calls for the copying of all and any documents relating to one’s case so that he/she can adequately prepare. Given the limited resources, such as dysfunctional photocopying machines, documents do not reach the relevant parties in time for trial.
In light of all this, Magistrate Frederick outlined that some other Caribbean territories have taken to using Sufficiency Hearings, where information is simply vetted and sent onward to the High Court, as an alternative to Preliminary Hearings. This, Frederick expects, will be met with opposition from the Bar as it may demolish attorneys’ opportunity to get fees every time they go to court. However, he urged that they should see it as an opportunity to fast track the justice system.