Change remand system
PUBLIC CONFIDENCE OFTEN depends in a large measure on officials not only doing their jobs efficiently, but communicating effectively to the public they serve on their roles and actions. Long gone are the days when people holding high office did not have to be accountable or transparent in their actions.
It was therefore heartening to read about our Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, knowing his interests and concerns beyond the law. It shows him to be relevant and of our times, and even when it comes to the law as having a level of sensitivity to the social circumstances in which he and indeed the entire judiciary operate.
His comments on the issue of preliminary inquiries in the Magistrates’ Court were instructive, both for those trained in the law as well as the layman.
“The preliminary inquiry does not serve us well, has not served us well, is not serving us well and we really need to get rid of it.”
These comments reflect the pain of many families who feel their loved ones languish far too long on remand at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds, with no sustained public outcry on this matter. It is not a purely legal issue, but an infringement of human rights of which we should be all concerned.
There are certain key facts we seek in relation to people on remand at Dodds as we consider ways to improve aspects of our judicial system:
• How many people annually over the past five years were remanded to await trial?
• Over that period, how many were convicted and were awaiting sentence and what was the average waiting time?
• How many on remand were subsequently acquitted?
• What percentage of those on remand were accused of non-violent offences?
• Were there any attempted suicides or cases of people suffering mental health problems?
• What are the rights and entitlements of an acquitted defendant in relation to compensation?
We must not have a justice system where those on remand and not convicted may find themselves being treated far worse than sentenced prisoners.
It is important to know if the staff at Dodds is sufficient, knowledgeable and dedicated to working with those on remand to ensure their rights and needs are distinct from those convicted and sentenced.
We must have a just society, one where there must be no perception of differences between what obtains for the rich or the poor.
We need to hear not only the Chief Justice but other important public officers such as the Director of Public Prosecutions on these and other issues since there is a context in which all officials must undertake their duties in modern Barbados.