Addressing the opening of the 2017-18 law term, the Chief Justice said that “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”.
The head of the judiciary, who during his statement outlined a series of measures aimed at overhauling the judicial system, speed up the administration of justice and reduce crime, said that while the CCJ, which is the island’s final court, had criticised the Court of Appeal of Guyana and Dominica, it too had suffered delays.
“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,” he told the opening ceremony.
He announced changes to the working hours of judges, taking at least one off the roster each month to allow them more time to write their judgments. This, he said, would help reduce the worrying backlog.
“I have from April this year instituted a de-rostering of High Court judges. It’s a directive for judges to take the time to write a decision. Two of the judges have said to me the de-rostering programme had actually given the opportunity to think,” he said, adding that judges could not be expected to find the time to resolve 15 to 20 applications per day, write decisions and still have time for life and family.
Earlier this month, the CCJ in a ruling that a Barbadian woman should be considered the spouse of her late partner as well as having the right to inherit from him on his death. Also expressed concern over what it said appears to be the practice in Barbados for matters to be stayed pending the outcome of interlocutory appeals without a formal court order.
The court dissuaded the use of this practice except in circumstances where it was necessary after a full consideration of the relevant factors.
It noted that that the nine years that elapsed since the death of Selby was inconsistent with the overriding objective to resolve disputes justly and expeditiously.
The CCJ ruled that such delay inevitably caused distress as no one had been appointed to administer Selby’s estate and as a result it sought to give a ruling as expeditiously as possible taking into consideration the matter having been filed in March this year.
In his address, Chief Justice Gibson said he is hoping that by taking a shot at drug addiction he can help reduce the number of gun crimes in Barbados.
One of his proposed plans is to make greater use of the drug treatment court with a view to shrinking the market for illegal substances, which he linked to rising gun violence.
He said that the court’s aim was to wean addicts off drugs and return them to society as productive citizens.
Therefore, he said, if the programme is successful it will reduce the demand for illegal drugs and, hopefully, the related drug wars.
“We have recently seen a spike in violent crime committed with firearms, and there is little doubt that much of the use of firearms is fuelled by the drug trade. We in the court join all right thinking Barbadians in deprecating the violence which has caused so many of us to cower in fear. We will continue in our own little way to reduce the market by reducing the number of addicts and we can only hope that this will in turn reduce some of the violence which we are witnessing.”
Chief Justice Gibson also announced an operational review of the Supreme Court’s Registration Department with the intention to “eliminate some of the duplication of effort in the registry” and to retrain staff, although he did not go into details.
But another initiative is the expansion of the mediation project which seeks to resolve non-complicated civil cases in particular, before they get to a judge.
He said the programme has had modest success, but it needed greater buy-in from lawyers.
“Although there have not been much publicity about the modest successes, cases continue to be settled through mediation. I use the word modest because there have not been nearly as much buy-in to the project as we would wish. Lawyers still say that their clients want their day in court, meaning their day before a judge,” he said.
The Chief Justice said that the Supreme Court hosted a session recently for members of the Barbados Bar Association in a bid to “combat this absence of enthusiasm” and push for more cases to be resolved by the parties before they go before the judge.
- Countries: Barbados