Delays of justice not solving matters
Thu, 04/14/2016 - 12:00am
By Jenique Belgrave
There is a desperate need for justice to be served in a timely manner. It is simply not right for individuals to languish behind prison bars for long periods awaiting court dates due to adjournment after adjournment or for victims to know that perpetrators are walking outside free for years after committing a crime due to the long delays it takes for a case to resume.
My first trek into journalism led me straight to the steps of the law courts. For those two years, as a court reporter, I came to understand the workings of the legal system in Barbados and several of the reasons behind the lengthy period for a commenced case to be brought to a conclusion.
For many of those cases, the myriad of reasons for adjournments were staggering. From lawyers claiming not to have received instruction from their client, to both sides misplacing files, to witnesses not being found in time for the court date, it just seemed as there was a revolving door for cases not to get started and the clerk was hard pressed to find an adjournment date for all of them. In fact, it is telling that for all of those months, unless the defendant pleaded guilty or was discharged by the magistrate outright, seeing a case from its beginning to end was as rare as seeing food prices drop overnight.
I witnessed several cases where plaintiff’s decided to withdraw their cases due to the length of time the entire process was taking. One mother cried as she spoke on the alleged rape of her 11-year-old daughter and the amount of time she had to take off work to attend court and with her child now being 16, she could not take another adjournment and as a result was no longer moving forward with the charges. The magistrate pleaded with her to wait, but she was at the end of her tether and with her job at risk and the mental anguish being experienced by the child involved, she signed the necessary documents and left hugging her daughter. In another, the prosecutor could not find the correct files and the magistrate faced with the fact that the matter had been adjourned several times for that very same reason, allowed the accused to go free.
What was a major eye-opener however, is that in a brief return to court three years ago, I was stunned to see many of the same accused heading to the docket as had almost a decade earlier. Confused as to what I was seeing and wondering if these individuals had been charged with other crimes, imagine my shock when I realised that there were for the same cases of fraud, aggravated burglary and manslaughter. What a worry it is to note that these more serious crimes could take up the court’s time for years.
By no means is Barbados the only country in the region being affected by these long delays however.
The situation has become so worrisome that Jamaica’s Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, has called on judges to move to dismiss cases that are in the system for five years and more by the end of 2016.
Insisting that cases must be dealt with within months, similar to procedures in other jurisdictions, he noted that timelines must be established for the disposal of cases to ensure efficiency in the justice system as well as protect the rights of Jamaicans.
While such a move may be a necessary one in light of the back-up currently in the system, it would not give comfort to the victims’ or their families that persons are being released due to the inability of courts to cope with the load. The suggestion a few years ago that night court could be a possible solution can only be viable when there are the resources to
One can only hope that a solution will soon be applied as justice delayed is justice denied.