Wiser rule of law
by Gercine CarterCarlisle Greaves earned a reputation for dispensing tough justice in novel ways from his bench in the District “A” Magistrates’ Court in Barbados. He is also credited with remarkable success in clearing the heavy backlog of cases in that court. That reputation followed him to Bermuda, where he was seconded by the Barbados Government 12 years ago. Today Justice Carlisle Greaves sits on the Bermuda Supreme Court, still ruling with a firm hand and enhanced wisdom. Greaves is on his annual Crop-Over holiday at home, sat down with the Weekend Nation to reflect on his career.
“I used to feel and still do feel that when you have been blessed with life and opportunity you should make a difference and that is what drove me then and still drives me now,” he said, Greaves started out in the Civil Service as a clerical officer and law clerk in the Crown Solicitor’s Office. He qualified as an attorney-at-law in 1988, became a magistrate in 1992 and in 1998 went to Bermuda on loan as a magistrate in the Family Court there. His success in turning that court around after three years led to his being appointed to the post of acting senior magistrate for another three. When he thought he was returning to Barbados after six years as a magistrate in Bermuda, Greaves was appointed to act as Assistant Justice of the Supreme Court and in 2005 was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of Bermuda. He has since resigned his position with the Barbados Government.
Looking back, Greaves explained: “Even before I was a magistrate, when I was prosecuting, I was not always pleased with the time that I would receive cases to prosecute. So when I went to the bench I sought to remedy that, and clearing backlogs has been my favourite mission since then until now. “We had some difficult times in the late 1980s and up to mid 1990s with crime in particular, and I believed that we could break the back of it and that the Magistrates’ Court had a role to play, so I focused a lot on clearing that backlog.”Greaves was one of the innovators in new sentencing techniques, which are now being incorporated into legislation in other jurisdictions.
He also pioneered the community service technique along with Chief Magistrate Clyde Nicholls, a sentencing option that found wide favour with Barbadians. “I started matching sentences with dates and times, things to trigger the memory of individuals. I did not believe, for example, at the Magistrates’ Court level that for certain types of offences people should be locked up for a very long period of time. A man may take $90 in stuff and I may only give him 90 days. I thought that was a better reminder to him ‘thou shalt not steal’ than to send him to prison for three years.” That “short, sharp shot with a bit of imagination” tended to work.
“It tended to put in the minds of those who would commit offences that maybe they should not commit them because they might have to face me.” Looking back, Greaves admits “there was a perception that I was tougher than I was” but he argues it was his style that made the real difference. “Back then it was not unusual for people to be waiting around for years for a trial. In a murder case, for example, it was unheard of to have a preliminary inquiry conducted under two years. In my court every man was guaranteed that he would have a hearing within three months. By the time I left, every man was guaranteed a hearing within two weeks.” He has recorded the techniques he employed in clearing case backlogs in two yet-to-be published papers. In large part, Greaves has been guided throughout his life by principles instilled by a mother for whom there was no compromising when it came to doing the right thing.
“Work and then play” was one of her most enduring principles which Greaves followed, advising “you do what you have to do first. You would not see me party before I pay my bills”. Bermuda is “a very vibrant jurisdiction” that keeps him very busy. He said that as in most jurisdictions, crime there is triggered by the illegal drug industry. He has come a long way from the first two years in Barbados’ District “A” Magistrates’ Court when “it was so tough I used to have a headache every day. To keep calm I needed to go into the sea a lot because I find water calms me a lot.” He also told of the initial six “tough” months as senior magistrate in Bermuda “because you had to clean the kitchen before you could start to cook”. Those tough days are behind him, and Greaves acknowledges the “good” changes Bermuda has brought about in him.
“I think I am quieter [and] my mind is broader. I am still tough, but also compassionate.” Will he be returning to the bench in Barbados any time soon? “I dream about Barbados every day,” he said, and he has hinted his intention to return “in the not too very distant future”.•gercinecarter@ nationnews.com