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THE ‘NETTE EFFECT: Fresh face on judicial system

Antoinette Connell

THE ‘NETTE EFFECT: Fresh face on judicial system

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It was rather pleasing to see Justice Randall Worrell quoted on the controversial issue of decriminalizing marijuana as it relates to personal use.
He presented carefully considered points to support his position. That was no surprise. After all, he has the background of a defence attorney who legally persuaded many a jury over to his side.
But my reaction has nothing to do with the arguments he advanced one way or the other on the matter. What I really admired and respected was his bold approach of speaking out that is not normally a feature of the Bench.
Justice Worrell made his initial comments while addressing a public event and followed this up by acceding to a request to be interviewed by the Press on the matter. In a short space of time he had broken with convention twice.
Traditionally, the Bench has been known to stay away from making pronouncements on controversial issues outside of the court setting and rarely has its judicial officers, whether judges or magistrates, readily accepted the scrutiny of a Press interview. It is not often that we see such a move as taken by Justice Worrell that expands on a point of view likely to conflict with the status quo.
I therefore applaud Justice Worrell’s decision to speak on matters likely to create a firestorm. It helps to remove some of the mystique of the court and shows that the Bench is in touch with matters affecting the public.
Justice Worrell’s approach could be that longed-for first step towards changing the face of the court.
The process had already started with the doing away of the wearing of wigs, a relic from a British past running all the way back to the 1600s. Changing of the dress code which still includes the wing collars and bands and gowns may also help to reshape the public perception that justice is sometimes mired in mystery.
Simplifying the dress code could take some of the intimidation out of the process.
By descending from the lofty perch of the Bench located within the imposing structure of the Supreme Court of Barbados, the judge’s readiness to face the public probably comes from having experienced life outside the sanitized courtroom or a lifelong career in the judicial system. It probably also comes from having a background in representing clients from all stations of life or from a brief flirtation with elective politics.
The shift in tradition begins to put a fresh face on the judicial system and removes some of the stodginess long associated with its practitioners.
Judicial officers have the influence to affect changes across many systems.
So if charges for small amounts of marijuana are taking up too much of the court’s time and detracting from more serious matters, they should speak up.
If a rape case is not investigated properly or the doctor treats the victim less than humane, the judge can say or make certain orders.
If a murderer goes free because of a technicality, leaving a family with further grief, the judge can voice his displeasure.
When social workers fail to complete a report on time, forcing another adjournment, take them to task.
It cannot be that the convict is the only object of the court’s reprimand. There must be others in a system that allows an accused to remain on remand for years before trial. Find the flaws and, like Justice Worrell, speak on them and act on them.
• Antoinette Connell is the DAILY NATION Editor.