Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart might have picked a fight with the Caribbean Court of Justice when he accused the region’s highest court of slandering the island.
With the country having been hit by at least three reprimands in the past two years from the CCJ on delays in its criminal justice system, Stuart Tuesday signalled he has had enough and fell just short of saying that this island is being picked upon.
CCJ had slammed Barbados in 2015 for a civil case that was creeping through the island’s court since 1988. In 2016 it spoke of the ‘inordinate systemic delay’ in a case involving drug dealers.
Also last year CCJ President, Sir Dennis Byron, criticised the frequent adjournments of legal matters in Barbados’ magistrates courts that slows the justice system.
Additionally, Barbadians have been complaining about the number of persons charged with serious criminal offences, including murder, walking the streets free because of long delays in getting them to court trial.
“I do not myself get too overwhelmed by what the Caribbean Court of Justice says. We do not rejoice that there are delays in the system. There are delays, and we have to deal with them,” Stuart said on the floor of Parliament.
In reference to the number of times that CCJ judges had reason to scold the island on its judicial delays, which attracted wide media attention he said, “I sometimes think that Barbados is being unnecessary slandered by some of the reports which I see.”
The prime minister pointed out that CCJ can make such comments of the Barbados system because this island along with Guyana, Dominica and Belize are the only ones of the 15-member CARICOM grouping to have signed on to this Caribbean court as the jurisdiction of final appeal.
“All the others still go the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and when you read decisions coming out of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council … evidence of horrible delays is uncovered in CARICOM countries that have not signed on to the CCJ,” Stuart said, adding “but the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council handles that issue of delays much less salaciously than seems to be the case when the issue is being handled here in the Caribbean.”
He said that matters of delays that are before the British Privy Council “are dealt with in one sentence, two at most, without any administering of rebuke or any holding up of a particular country to ridicule… but a lot more salaciously issues are handled in this region.”
The prime minister said that delays in the criminal justice system “is a serious problem for all countries and we have to confront the problem because we all know that justice delayed is justice denied.”
He went on to speak of the ‘vested interest’ of all Barbadians in a properly functioning judicial system, but added, “it is not going to function efficiently if whenever there is evidence that there is delay … a country is held up to ridicule and the impression is given that the system is not working.”
He assured that the issue is not one on which Barbados can rest on its laurels, “but I am just saying that it is a regional problem and it just happens that those countries that have signed on to the CCJ come under the CCJ spotlight.
“Those that have not signed on to the CCJ come under the spotlight of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that deals with these issues fundamentally differently from how they are handled in the region.”
The clearly unhappy prime minister added, “the impression should not be given in any quarter that we hear about delays, or we know about them, and we’re doing nothing about them.”
Stuart’s comments may not provoke the fight he appears to be seeking as it is not the norm of the CCJ to respond to such accusations, but for Barbadians the true battle lies in getting a speedy justice system that keeps known criminals off the streets.