Hope renewed in justice system
After intermittently attending the Bridgetown Magistrates’ courts in the past month and seeing examples of judicial officials tempering justice with mercy, the Bjerkhamn case troubled me somewhat.
I heard a magistrate lament about the section under which the charge was brought that tied her hands, forcing her to either give a sentence that would have been offensive or impose the community service sentence which she did.
Since then, while I am no lawyer, I can come up with no answer as to what would have informed the Director of Public Prosecutions to reduce the charge in that matter so drastically.
It’s all over, I told myself, applying an oft-used phrase from my friend, veteran entertainer Richard Stoute.
Be that as it may, I was fortuitously assigned to cover the verdict of the Arch Cot Enquiry and witnessed one of the finest hours of our justice system.
After 13 months of gathering evidence from 22 witnesses, including residents, experts, engineers and other professionals, and actually going to the locus in quo, Coroner Faith Marshall-Harris delivered a thorough verdict last Thursday.
In three and a half hours she provided “overwhelming evidence”, as she described it, to support her verdict: that the cave-in at Arch Cot which claimed five lives – Donavere Codrington, his wife Cassandra and three of their children – was “not so much an act of God but the act of man forcing the hand of God”.
In her stronglyworded summary, the learned Coroner described the “callous disregard” shown by some in the matter, including the fact that some of professionals involved failed to point out a large crack in Chelston and ignored an engineering survey.
It is now left to be seen how soon will compensatory proceedings begin via civil litigation, since the Coroner pointed out that insurance companies – once provided with reports such as her findings – would “do the necessary”.
Marshall-Harris’ investigation also highlighted the immense value of record-keeping and of residents’ views, which were patently ignored before and after Shalom Apartments were built.
The concerns of the Benns, who had explored the network of caves as children, basically fell on deaf ears; but in my humble opinion alert neighbours should always be cherished, for despite their supposed lack of “technical” knowledge, their homegrown knowledge and instincts are equally important and, in this instance, could have saved five innocent lives.
As a result of that fateful early morning of August 26, 2007 and last week’s court verdict, it cannot be business as usual for construction in an island virtually sitting on a honeycomb of caves. Therefore, thorough and probably costly engineering or geological testing of areas earmarked for housing and business development should become mandatory.
True justice demands it.