EDITORIAL: Justice delayed, justice denied
ONE MONTH AGO, on June 7, the DAILY NATION published a story that extensively quoted prominent attorney Arthur Holder criticising those responsible for not appointing a new Chief Magistrate following the elevation of Pamela Beckles to the position of High Court judge.
At that time it had been almost five months since her promotion from the Magistrate’s Court to the Supreme Court.
This week, the new president of the Barbados Bar Association, Liesel Weekes, joined the discussion, warning that the absence of a chief magistrate was having a negative impact on the delivery of justice. She called on authorities to fill the post with dispatch.
“It should be a major priority right now, and it is the Bar’s role now to get the powers that be to appreciate how dire the situation is . . . ,” she said. “The persons who can make a difference have been made aware of what is necessary.”
When this is viewed against the backdrop of complaints from just about every quarter in this country, as well as from the Caribbean Court of Justice, about the slow pace at which cases are heard and judgements delivered here, and the horrendously large backlog of cases, no one should have to tell the Government this matter ought to have been treated as a priority.
We are reasonably sure those in charge did not wake up one morning and decide a new judge was needed and the chief magistrate, who at the time was also the sitting magistrate at Oistins, should get the job. And it is hardly likely that there are no lawyers qualified or interested in being chief magistrate, or that none of the sitting magistrates is up to scratch for the job.
We are sure Barbadians are more inclined to believe that this long delay is more in keeping with a modus operandi of this Government that suggests few things in the affairs of this country these days are worth raising a sweat over. It is as though little to nothing bothers those who are in charge.
The affairs of the country will not grind to a halt because there is no chief magistrate, just as the slow process of delivering justice for so many years has not brought our national business to a standstill. But no one can deny that frustration, lack of confidence in the system and lost business opportunities have been the result.
Additionally, we cannot ignore the fact that for much of our post-Independence history, the functioning of our judiciary has served as a point of pride and inspiration and would have been held up as a symbol of our efficiency in the delivery of public services.
We are therefore doing tremendous harm to that legacy when we continually fail to take the kind of action that would put our justice system back on track. Worse, when the decision on a matter as simple and non-contentious as the appointment of a chief magistrate can take half a year (and counting) – suggesting that even the straightforward we can’t seem to manage effectively or efficiently.
Clear, deliberate and comprehensive action is now necessary from the offices of the Prime Minister, Attorney General and Chief Justice to fix our justice system, not just settle the appointment of a chief magistrate. We cannot allow such critical institutions to continue to slide downhill while we all act as though all is well.