Victims of crimes, particularly those related to sexual assault and domestic violence, are about to see a shift in the way their rights are treated, and how they are vindicated by the law courts in Barbados.
This guarantee was given by the island’s top judge, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, who vowed that the Model Guidelines for Sexual Offence Cases in the Caribbean Region would make room for “victim impact statements”.
He made the comments at the launch of these guidelines, at the Courtyard by the Marriott. Barbados is the first CARICOM nation to take this step.
“The Model Guidelines is rights-based. They assume that the victim is not reduced to being a part of the backdrop…but she is, in fact, the purpose. Her rights and the vindication of those rights, even in the context of a criminal prosecution, is the reason why we are here,” he said.
In addition, the new guidelines are intended to provide internationally accepted best practices for the management of sexual offence cases and offer a rights-based approach to the treatment of complaints and vulnerable witnesses, including children, involved in sexual assault cases.
Admitting that the problem with sexual assault cases was the length of time it took to prosecute them, leading to victims opting not to offer evidence, the Chief Justice said this resulted in victims losing their rights.
Noting that the fault did not lie with “any particular branch or particular group”, Sir Marston stressed that Barbados could no longer be a part of a system, or allow a system to be perpetuated, where victims’ rights were taken away.
The rights of victims are also expected to be given greater prominence through other initiatives designed to improve the island’s judicial system.
These include the Sentence Indication/Guilty Plea and a Bench Book on Domestic Violence for magistrates and acting magistrates.
“One of the things that we are not good at doing is hearing the victim speak. What happens is that victims tend to speak through the probation report. In our Sentence Indications/Plea Bargaining Guilty Plea workshop, one of the central features of the practice direction, which is in draft, is that there is going to be room for victim impact statements.
“We refuse to relegate the victim to be a part of the backdrop. Very much like our model guidelines are rights-based, our sentence implications project and practice direction will be rights-based,” Sir Marston stressed.
The Chief Justice explained that workshops will be held next month to introduce stakeholders, including judges, magistrates, and representatives from the Director of Public Prosecutions Office, the Barbados Bar Association, Probation Department, HMP Dodds Prison, police prosecutors and the Faculty of Law, to the new initiatives.
This, he said, was being made possible through “generous” funding provided under the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) project, funded by the Canadian Government.
That funding will see the court undertaking a disaster preparedness project and an operational review of its systems. A report on the latter is still to be finalised.