Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim has lauded the choices of new judges to sit in the Court of Appeal and the High Court in a bid to tackle the backlog of cases in the country’s judicial system.
Pilgrim who has been a strong critic of the delays in the system told Barbados TODAY he was “hopeful” that the steps being taken would alleviate the situation.
“I am hopeful, I cannot just be criticising, criticising all the time. You have to hope that things would get better and this is a step in the right direction,” the defence attorney said following the start of the new legal year 2019/2020.
Over the weekend three jurists – Justice Rejendra Narine, from Trinidad and Tobago; Barbadian Francis Belle, a judge of the Court in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS); and Jefferson Cumberbatch, Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill were named as Court of Appeal judges.
Shona Griffith from Belize; Cecil McCarthy, QC, Cicely Chase-Harding, QC; Barry Carrington, currently acting Registrar and Chief Magistrate Christopher Birch were named to serve in the High Court while renowned jurist Justice Carlisle Greaves and Magistrate Laurie-Ann Smith-Bovell will act as temporary judges. They are still to be appointed by Governor-General Dame Sandra Mason.
“The people that they have placed there are people with ability and some of them indeed have the experience in dealing with the backlog. So, from that point of view I am definitely hopeful,” said Pilgrim who added that he was also hopeful that measures have been put in place to facilitate continuity where the magistrates who are being elevated are concerned.
He said: “I hope that there are provisions being made to ensure continuity in terms of those magistrates that are being elevated, that their courts will continue to work and work rapidly as we try to beat this backlog because you can’t have this dysfunction each time someone has moved. If every time a person goes on vacation nothing happens in their court if somebody goes to some other post nothing happens in their court it is causing the backlog.”
“Sometimes we think the backlog is because people are not working fast but is because we allow the system to break down at different levels anytime we make any shift in the system. All the courts need to function all the time then you wouldn’t have to try and bring 20 judges to try and do work that we should have been doing all long. But this is a step in the right direction and I laud it and support it,” Pilgrim added.
He, however, revealed that he was putting measures in place at his chambers of Pilgrim and Associates “to be as available as possible to facilitate the new judges who are there and I am definitely hoping that it can work out so that we can start to see the wheels of justice turn.”
Pilgrim, however, believes that procedures should be put in place to deal with aged cases.
“I would like to see some sort of policy decision saying that some of these cases that are ten years and older — accept defeat in those cases and let them go because to punish people or to try to, try people with witnesses ten years after the fact is going to be extremely difficult. I have a case that is 17 years old, are they going to start that now? I understand that you have cases that you want to prioritize but is it realistic to do cases that are so old that you are punishing a 31-year-old, for example, for the crimes of a 21-year-old or a 27-year-old for the crimes of a 17-year-old? People who have now gone on to have children, married, working whatever, it’s a challenge and it’s a real disconnect for me to be seeing some of these people now worrying about [those] cases.
“It is going to be difficult to deal with those people now and have those witnesses prepare, some of those witnesses retired, resigned from the force, all of that, it will be a challenge but in my view you should set a cut off point and deal with cases of a certain vintage and come forward but to go back beyond ten years to me is really asking for more challenges,” he stated even as he applauded the choice of Chief Magistrate Christopher Birch as the lead judge for Maximum Sentence Indications (MSI) to tackle the backlog.
“Magistrate Birch is one of those who was instrumental in starting the MSI process even before it was on the books technically and so he would have experience in that area and has always been someone who likes that area.
“As I understand from the first world countries, the learning that I have read, the only way you can beat your backlog and stay ahead of it in a modern country is if you are getting pleas to the majority of your cases. What that means, is you have to have investigative processes that convince people of their guilt and genuinely prove people guilty,” Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY.