Changes are on the cards for Barbados’ criminal justice system as policymakers continue striving to improve its efficiency and reduce backlogs.
Some of these changes were highlighted by Attorney General, Adriel Brathwaite, as he contributed to a panel discussion hosted by the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit on the topic: Building a More Efficient Criminal Justice System, at Solidarity House last night.
Among the changes on the cards is the move to have all indictable matters, both from the Magistrates’ Court and the High Court, prosecuted through the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Mr. Brathwaite explained that under the proposed plan, the Police Prosecutors who presently prosecute cases in the Magistrates’ Courts would do so from the office of the DPP.
“I believe that this will enhance the process considerably, and even strengthen prosecutions because we will have a larger cadre of trained individuals to lead prosecutions,” he said, while noting that The Bahamas had also adopted a similar position and was seeing a higher level of convictions and guilty pleas.
The Attorney General also signalled his intention to relook legal aid and how it presently works, so as to make it more efficient and reduce the time spent waiting on accused persons to find an attorney.
Mr. Brathwaite explained what currently obtained was that a “handful” of attorneys did criminal matters, but accused persons preferred only to be represented by a small number of them in court.
“That cannot go on,” the Minister declared, stating that notwithstanding human rights and other issues, there came a point when the State still had to decide what was most reasonable.
“Do we allow them to hijack the system or do we do what I am proposing to do and change the system?” Mr. Brathwaite queried. His solution was for the establishment of a pool from which accused persons could choose an attorney, failing which, they would go before a judge and have one assigned.
However, Mr. Brathwaite told those present that much of their challenges would be addressed through the embracing of information technology. “In 2016 I lament the fact that we are not leveraging the use of information technology… It makes no sense to having it available and not utilising it,” he contended.
He suggested that information technology, through an electronic solution, could be used in reducing the backlog of traffic cases, freeing up the court to deal with the more serious cases.
In addition, Mr. Brathwaite disclosed that the Magistrates’ Courts were set to start receiving equipment by this Friday to alleviate magistrates having to write every statement made. All the courts, he added, were expected to come on board with the technology by next year.
That, he said, coupled with the abolition of preliminary inquiries, should result in a speedier turnaround time at the Magistrates’ Courts.
Representatives from the Royal Barbados Police Force, the Supreme Court of Barbados, the Probation Department, the Barbados Prison Service and the Forensic Sciences Centre also made presentations during the panel discussion.