NEW YORK NEW YORK: Slow justice a drag
Justice delayed is justice denied.
Experts are divided over who first articulated that legal maxim.
Some historians trace it to clause 40 of the Magna Carta signed at Runnymede in 1215 by King John. In the Great Charter, the sovereign pledged “to no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.”
Others insist it was William Ewart Gladstone, Britain’s prime minister between 1868-1894, the most prominent public figure in the United Kingdom at that time, who uttered the immortal words which simply mean that if a party has suffered an injury and doesn’t receive redress in a timely fashion, he or she isn’t receiving justice at all.
In essence, the legal standard is the foundation of the right to a speedy trial.
It’s that foundation which is probably being undermined in Barbados in both criminal and civil cases.
On the criminal side, the abuse has left Sir Roy Marshall, a former vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies and legal luminary in his birthplace and in the United Kingdom, embarrassed because of the notorious practice of remanding accused persons to HMP Dodds, sometimes for years before they can face a judge and a jury of their peers to determine guilt or innocence.
“One of my constant preoccupations is the state of the administration of justice in Barbados, and for that matter, much of the Caribbean,” Sir Roy said. “To be brutally frank, I think our present system has deteriorated to a point that is embarrassing.”
The right to a speedy trial was on the minds of the jurists who sit on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) when, in a decision in a case involving a Barbadian, they took the country to task for its tardiness.
As a matter of fact, the CCJ did so on about four separate occasions.
It is that embarrassment which a Marston Gibson-led court must address if and when the Rhodes Scholar gives up his position as a court-appointed referee in the New York State Supreme Court in Nassau County to become Barbados’ next Chief Justice.
And how he plans to come to grips with it may soon become clear.
Clearly, most people in and out of Barbados want him to succeed and would be grateful to him and his fellow judges if they solved problem.
Speedy trials and timely decisions are a cornerstone of our judicial system.
For as the late Warren Burger, America’s chief justice in the 1960s and 1970s warned, a belief that “inefficiency and delays will strain even a just judgement of its value” would eventually “destroy” people’s confidence and do “incalculable damage to society”.
While Barbados’ court system isn’t perceived as being tainted by politics or corruption, unfortunately, it is being seen as too slow in delivering justice, sometime as long as six years in civil cases.
Michael de La Bastide, the retiring president of the CCJ, added another factor to the reality of justice delayed when he complained that by delaying justice the legal process could incite the wrong thinking in both the plaintiff and the defendant.
That’s because the winner of a case can think that he or she has lost something by not being able to act more precipitously on the judgement they have won, while the loser thinks that the clock was running against him or her all during the time of the delay when it comes time to pay a large judgement plus interest.
In essence, litigants can reap financial rewards that far exceed returns on investments in the marketplace. For instance, while an annual return of three per cent on private investment in today’s economic environment would be considered more than acceptable, courts in New York allow interest on judgements to be pegged as high at nine per cent and in many Caribbean countries between five and six per cent.
Looked at another way, the court may end up wreaking havoc on defendants with such high interest rates on damages.
That goes against the grain of a principle set by Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, the Barbadian who is the administrative judge of Brooklyn’s vast Civil Court division, who said recently: “I say to people all the time, we are not in court to make you rich but to put you back in the position you were in before whatever injustice or infraction occurred.”
The court is there to dispense justice, not to enrich litigants.
But that’s but a single problem triggered by delayed justice. Another is the infringement of people’s constitutional right when they are placed on remand for years.
We often forget that defendants are innocent until proven guilty.