Barbados chief justice snipes at CCJ

Barbados Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson.
Photo by George Alleyne

Responding to a scolding from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) about delays in trials in Barbados, the island’s Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson has snapped back telling the CCJ to get its own house in order first.

Ruling last year on a case involving an appeal of four convicted drug traffickers in Barbados, the Trinidad based CCJ had overturned a Barbados Court of Appeal refusal to hear the matter and ordered that the men’s case be heard.

At the same time the CCJ panel of judges had complained of ‘inordinate systemic delay’ in the Barbados judiciary and urged that steps be taken to correct the situation.

But the Nation newspaper reported Gibson saying Monday in an address to members of the legal fraternity at the opening of the 2017-2018 legal year of law administration, “I ask you to go on the CCJ website, look up a case called Maurice Tomlinson, look at the last paragraph and see what it says. I quote, ‘The court acknowledges the delay in the decision of this case,’ so the CCJ has had its own problems with delay.”

The chief justice added, “based on the frequency one sees the word backlog juxtaposed to the word courts in Barbados, one would believe that this was the only place on Earth with such a problem.”

Further Gibson charged that Barbados is not alone with such delays in taking cases to trial, and pointed fingers at Guyana and Dominica where he said there are many holdups in the process.

But Sir Marston Gibson’s retort to the CCJ, the court of last resort of Barbados, Belize, Dominica, and Guyana, comes against a backdrop of local complaints on the slowness of the island’s judiciary system.

An offshoot of the slow pace at which cases are taken to court and trials are conducted has been the granting of bail to persons charged with serious offences, including murder, mainly because of the time spent in jail awaiting trial.

The granting of bail for accused murderers in itself has prompted public outrage with Barbadians complaining of the added pain of seeing someone suspected of killing a relative or other loved one walking the streets freely.

Jurists have in vain sought to explain that persons accused of murder have not been found guilty of the serious offence as they have only been charged and remain innocent in the eyes of the law.

Here again rulings of the CCJ come into the Barbados picture with High Court judge Justice Jacqueline Cornelius explaining that accused persons — including suspected murderers — held on remand pending pretrial must be tried within reasonable time.

She pointed to a CCJ ruling that such persons must not be held for an ‘unreasonable period’ before trial.

“It is the most serious offence and the public has a very strong feelings that men and women charged with murder should as much as possible be brought to trial as quickly as possible,” she said.

Cornelius herself had granted bail to accused murderers, including bonded release last year to a man who had languished four years behind bars awaiting trial.

Cornelius said that the releases on bail was as a direct result of a backlog of murder cases in the judicial system, which resulted in a denial of the constitutional right of persons to a speedy trial.

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