Notes From a Native Son: How Anarchy Has Replaced the Rule of Law in Barbados

Hal Austin

Hal Austin


In this season of goodwill, it is important to reflect on a recent example of petulance, obstinacy and outright arrogance by the Commissioner of Police over the recent acquittal of an innocent man accused of double rape. The facts of the case are simple: two women, white and British, in separate incidents alleged they were raped by a local man.Within a short period of making the reports, a man was arrested,interrogated and then charged with the rape offences. Almost as soon as they were invited to identify the man, both women said the accused was not the attacker and gave a number of identifying characteristics as evidence that the police had arrested the wrong man.

There was no forensic evidence, no DNA, only an alleged confession, obtained in custody while under interrogation, which was repudiated almost as soon as the accused appeared in court. In any civilised legal system, based on the old Roman principle that it was better that ten guilty persons go free than a single innocent one be wrongly convicted, that should have been the end of the case. Not in Barbados. Having been remanded in custody for eleven months, and the potential miscarriage of justice attracting the attention of the international press, the accused was released but not before the police, courts and the Guyanese director of public prosecutions prevaricated and delayed. It took the criminal justice authorities eleven months and a showpiece trial, worthy of the old Soviet Union, to work out that no properly constructed criminal court would have convicted the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, given the lack of evidence. First grade criminology students know that confessions are not themselves reasons for a conviction.

The literature is full of case histories of people claiming to have committed criminal acts when they were in fact miles away.What makes the injustice even more cynical is that at present two uniformed police officers are accused of sexually assaulting two tourists. Like all accused, they too are innocent until found guilty, but why are they on bail? If anyone is likely to interfere with evidence and witnesses it is likely to be someone familiar with the internal workings of the criminal justice system, not some middle-aged street man.


Had that demonstration of collective incompetence, even outright institutional dysfunctional backwardness been all, we would have been able to leave things at that. But what makes matters worse is a reported claim by the commissioner that although the accused was released it did not mean that he was not guilty.

Apart from the fact that the authorities already faced civil action for illegal arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, loss of earnings, damage to reputation (whatever his previous criminal history, two rape accusations would have further diminished him in society), and now defamation by the commissioner, alleging that although he was freed by the courts he was to his mind as guilty as sin. What is apparent about the commissioner’s reported ill-judged outburst, apart from giving us a glimpse in to the mind-set that has given us a management style that has led to the chaos at the very top of the Royal Barbados Police Force, is that he either did not care he was libelling the accused, or if he did, he did not care. It is the kind of police justice that we used to see in the old Jim Crow Deep South of the United States when if a black man was accused of raping a white woman (see Emmett Till) the Irish-Scots-sharecroppers would organise a posse to hunt down the accused and his associates to lynch them. It was also the underlying fear in South African apartheid and even in Britain in the 1950s and 60s when a black man seen in the company of white women was certain to be harassed (see Christine Keeler and Lucky Gordon).

In a mature jurisdiction, whatever the personal belief of senior police officers, the rule of law must prevail, we do not do lynch mobs, that is what makes ours a democratic and civilized society. Above all, the behaviour of the police and the apparent passive acquiescence of the Guyanese director of public prosecution and the attorney general, have together acted to undermine and discredit the Barbados legal system. What makes the whole episode much worse is the total silence of the professional middle class, especially our young lawyers and law students, none of whom thought of forming a defence campaign on behalf of the accused man. Their silence speaks volumes about the nature of Barbadian middleclass values and ethics, especially an elite that is prepared to allow a drug-running Cuban illegal immigrant to reside in the island onso-called moral grounds. It is an elite that would not recognize morality if it fell on top of their heads.

No doubt the commissioner has made it clear, if reports are right, that he wants to hold talks with a small group of decision makers; it is a self-validating group who no doubt will re-assure him that he has acted correctly. The commissioner is not above the law; he too must be held accountable and cannot be expected to mark his own homework. The public expects the police to perform their duties with integrity and fairness and not to abuse their office; they should build trust with the public. The commissioner is the guardian of the reputation of the police as an institution, he is responsible for public safety and a defender of due process, he is operational head of the RBPF and the public rightly look to him for leadership on law and order.Instead, what they find is a bad loser, behaving like a petulant, spotty faced teenager. Further, he should order the commissioner to resign, retire or face the sack; the attorney general should then a appoint temporary commissioner on a one-year rolling contract, which would give him time to identify and fast-tract two or three future commissioners, and, inso doing, save the reputation of the RBPF.

41 thoughts on “Notes From a Native Son: How Anarchy Has Replaced the Rule of Law in Barbados

    • The challenge BU has with the article is the expectation which Hal has of the so called middle class. How do we expect a group that depend on a fixed salary with 20 year mortgages to be in the vanguard of change given our value system anchored in things?

      It will NOT happen!

  1. Hal

    This is an excellent post but you spoilt it right at the end. The Attorney General does not have the power to hire or fire any public officer. Mind you the politicians have, over the years, been able to achieve the appointment of their cronies by appointing political operatives on the various service commissions. The result is that most public service departments end up with third rate heads.

  2. This is indeed a very important post and very well reasoned . One small point of diversion must be observed however . The Commissioner did not say the man might not be guilty , he said it does not mean that he is innocent . ( LOl what a profound distinction I am making ) . I do not agree that he has libeled the gentleman but what I will say is that he has displayed a level of ignorance and professional ineptitude that is amazing for a Commissioner who is a lawyer and in the process has brought the justice system into disrepute.
    Recently a series of articles written by a former policeman , now a lawyer , appeared in the Advocate . One accused the Commissioner in very plain language of the dastardly act of phone tapping and challenged anyone to do anything about such a definitive accusation . From that day there has been dead silence from the Commissioner ; it has never been heard that any libel suit was being pursued . This kind of conduct certainly places our top law enforcement officer under the microscope and I wonder if he can continue to hold his post while being under such a cloud . My view is that there is more than ample reason for him to consider any decision to continue to hold on to the post of Commissioner of Police . He should really go .

  3. Another excellent post from Hal. 100%

    Caswell you jump in too fast here. Hal did not suggest that the AG fire the commissioner. He suggested that he ORDERED HIM TO RESIGN…….which he can do!
    The commissioner may refuse to obey the order and the matter could then be pursued at the appropriate level

    …..but of course this will not happen since the AG is an even bigger idiot than the Commissioner,

  4. David BU, there was a time when I had some financial responsibilities that made me put the brakes on. However, it certainly didn’t made me as passive and sheepish as my fellow Barbadians. Aren’t there people who are middle class who have some financial latitude that, if, they wanted to; could speak to this matter? Yes there are, but quite frankly they don’t give a damn.

  5. @Whitehall

    Yes we have a few in the so called middleclass who have a little more ‘independence’ than ‘others’ but they have surrender to the idea that the ‘others’ will not line up on the issues so why bother?

    There is a view that the larger the middleclass becomes so too the silence.

  6. In Bushie’s humble opinion, most of them DO give a damn Mr. Whitehill. The problem is a lack of BALLS and Brains.

    We suffer a preponderance of women in vital positions that should speak on such matters (and as we know, they are DESIGNED without balls), and the others (males) in such position are often there because of their capacity to operate like women.

    This in turn is a result of a COED education system that promotes femininity and fails masculinity.

    Bottom line
    If you want to locate the REAL MEN in Barbados you need to check the ZR stand and the Blocks.(explains why they run things…)
    So we have balls without brains and brains without balls.

    ….see if our present position is not easily explained thusly.

  7. The police and prison officers in Barbados have been for centuries torturing suspects/prisoners, a practice inherited from the ‘civilized’ British. Centainly the commissioner knows that up to 90 percent of convictions in Barbados are almost entirely based on ‘confessions’ – forced confessions. Confessionions generated by the employment of the highest levels of ‘efficiency’ in interrogation rooms on Coleridge Street and police stations throughout Barbados. The only lawyer, that we can recall, who has had the courage to ever make a public statement about this is Jonny Cheltenham (forgive us, we don’t recognize that three letter word given by a ‘queen’). What kind of system do we have where magistrates, judges, lawyers, the Bar Association and most importantly the government presides over such a barbaric system that operates on the basis of illegal acts? Acts committed against the poor. An aparthied system of justice that allows policemen to determine one’s social standing as the test for deciding when harsh interrogation measures are to apply. ACTS THAT ARE COMMITTED IN THE NAME OF THE GOVERNMENT. And as such are done by the goverment – every Barbados goverment. Any process of radical transformation in Barbados must include this cultural phenomenon for it has the potential to derail all that we think we should be. We disagree that this represents the anatomy of anarchy. It may represent a despotic police state but not anarchy, as a political construction.

  8. @Pacha

    To simplify your excellent comment, how we manage policing (justice) in Barbados is to liken to a 2012 Lexus model car which has a Datsun 1200 engine under the hood.

  9. @ David
    Yes. And you know once white people are the ‘victims’ the police will feel further empowered to engage in any acts necessary to bring somebody before the courts. For the pressures will be on them by those in the tourism industry and others to sacrifice an ‘innocent’ man, if necessary, to protect they business interests and keep a percieved reputation in the tourism markets.

  10. Nationnews ’TIS THE SEASON to be jolly. ’Tis also the season to stuff your face with great cake, ham, turkey and sorrel and Barbadians are not “making sport” when it comes to snapping up the traditional Christmas foods.”

    Now dah is wha Bajans really k bout.

    @Hal Austin,

    It is a lot easier for us “overseas Bajans” to speak we mind but those living in Barbados have to worry about victimisation.

    Change or Revolution will not start with the middle class.They just want to keep their Bimmas an Benzes.

  11. We need to accept that the tentacles of political corruption rampant in both the Barbados Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party have finally engulfed the police force. Public bickering at the top; officers contesting promotions in court;the Commissioner publicly questioning the DPP and so on is the final result of the former “star boy” Commissioner Durant who about 25 or so years ago when confronted by the drug trade publicly declared his hands were “tied’. That was put in posterity by a calypso(Me Hands Tied) by the Red Palstic Bag. My friends the deterioration in our police force started a long time ago. Slowly but surely we head towards a place from which there will be no return. We apparently want to go from Los Barbados to Barbados Loss.

  12. “Anarchy” – I’ve written numerous times on this BLOG and other Barbados BLOGs, suggesting ANARCHY was slowly but effectively creeping into Barbados society, nice to see others starting to see the same. When CORRUPTION reins ANARCHY quickly follows.

  13. Mr. Bush Tea,
    I’ve been hearing quite a bit about the REAL MEN on the block and the ZR stands, could it be then, that, whilst talking to the young ladies and I mentioning continuing education, thus they catatonic state? I’ve noticed the same is not present when they’re requesting the latest cell phones upon learning of my travels abroad. How can the true real men bring those back from this precipice?

  14. …”..but of course this will not happen since the AG is an even bigger idiot than the Commissioner,”
    very unkind statement to make of our learned attorney-general, mr bushtea, what could have led you to makke this ill-informed comment. to the best of my knowledge he was not the attorney-general who advised the cabinet that ‘there was no impediment standing in the way of mr marston gibson’s appointment to the post of chief justice’. mr herbert volney justice minister in trindad was sacked for mileading the cabinet of trinidad.

  15. ‘We need to accept that the tentacles of political corruption rampant in both the Barbados Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party have finally engulfed the police force. Public bickering at the top; officers contesting promotions in court;the Commissioner publicly questioning the DPP and so on i”

  16. Nuff said. No comment necessary.

    I endorse the sentiment except to add that Anarchy is rampant in Government Departments.

    I went to a certain Government Office on Wednesday to do business and one fellow doing as he like has prevented me from completing my business based only on his personal whim and fancy.

  17. @ Balance
    Man the very first thing this AG did when appointed, was to categorically declear that he intended to abolish the death penalty by the end of 2011…..knowing how the vast majority of Bajans feel about that topic ….what would you call him?

    What would you call the person designated to represent law and order, whose first declared ’cause’ is one of protecting murderers?
    …sorry balance, but some things does get Bushie especially vex..

  18. Why was a body released for burial, funeral arrangements completed by the family and then lo and behold the “authorities” took back the body from the funeral home. Can the family sue the authorities?

  19. balance
    Seasons Greetings to you and yours and may all good things attend you and yours in 2013.

    I concur but we do have a history whereby both the BLP and DLP allow bad precedents to remain. Public Order Act. Legislation of salaries-abandoning collective bargaining etc The point is that both parties are equally responsible for these failures.It is futile to even suggest that either party is really above the other. I understand the diehards and I honestly respect their loyaties to both parties but this loyaty cannot seriously fly in the face of historical fact. All we are now left with is the pot calling the kettle black. Six of one and half dozen of the next.

  20. Hal, I am perplexed that twice you refer to the “Guyanese” director of prosecutions. What is the relevance of his nationality? No race or nationality has a monolopy on stupidity. Do I detect a more racial slant to your story than usual? Very interesting.

  21. When Hal Austin decides to respond to the commenters that have been presented to him on his out-gassing, I will decide to take him seriously. Until then he remains just another pseudo-intellectual with no real cause other than to exhibit some understanding of the way others see things. Just another David Ellis, sorry

  22. @ Konkieman
    I said the same thing when I read the article. Mind you Hal is a Bajan journalist living in the UK known for many questionable police actions/inactions including the Stephen Lawrence murder.

  23. Can the commissioner of police tell us how many case has been referred to the D P P ,where members of the public has filed complaints against police officers in 2011 and what has been the outcome of thee cases we will surprise of the bad pratices that is done by thses officers.

    • Barbadians have this unfounded belief that politicians, lawyers,doctors and yes the POLICE must not be criticized. To do so is to commit some wrong. Against such a prevailing belief BU thought the following article which appears in today’s The Telegraph to be very interesting. It can happen in the UK but not Barbados!

      Even before the shocking possibility opened up this week in the Andrew Mitchell affair – that serving police officers conspired to destroy a Cabinet minister – it was clear that something in the police was wrong.
      England has 39 police forces, headed by 39 chief constables or commissioners. In the past 18 months, seven have been sacked for misconduct, suspended, placed under criminal or disciplinary investigation or forced to resign. That is not far off a fifth of the total.
      In the same period, at least eight deputy or assistant chief constables have also been placed under ongoing investigation, suspended or forced out for reasons of alleged misconduct. No fewer than 11 English police forces – just under 30 per cent – have had one or more of their top leaders under a cloud.

  24. Police and the courts will always see how much they can get a way with , Unless the People speak up in masses , If not the rest of us will be next,

  25. @Legalese. | December 21, 2012 at 7:24 AM | I disagree with you and Hal is correct. I am of the opinion that Mr Crawford has been defamed by Dotty and that a cause of action most certainly does arise against Dotty. That said, the benefits of such an action may be very small and therefore it is necessary to weigh whether there is any value in bringing such an action. I would have said not. However, you are wrong to state that there is no cause of action, because there most certainly is.

    @Bushie. As always, correct!

  26. @Konkieman No racial slur is intended. I was trying to make the point that as an ‘outsider’ the DPP may be more sensitive to pressure from the local political and social elites than he might have been if he knew the underwiring of local society. He is clearly not assertive enough.
    Another point, because the commissioner might have studied criminal law does not mean he is a lawyer, as some uninformed people seem to think.
    The commissioner before him was often described by the Nation as a criminologist, on the basic of having done work on criminology. In both cases they were police officers – a distinguished enough public office.

  27. Anarchy exists when those in authority sit idly by and allow others to infringe the laws of the land with impunity. We have seen it with the Minibuses, then the ZR’s came along and add their bit. We have seen it with ordinary bicyclist. Now motorcyclists have adopted the same crazy and dangerous antics. And not a fellow in charge saying “Hup!”
    A night last week I met a speeding ambulance on the ABC highway, no flashing emergency light, only a faint siren, which could not be heard by other motorists upwind. Last night a speeding ambulance passed me again on the ABC highway, No siren, just a single dim flashing blue light.
    Its little things like these, that eventually progress to major ones, including challenging the elected government itself.

  28. ‘sorry balance, but some things does get Bushie especially vex”
    do not get me wrong bushie because generally i concur with your comments but what galls me is that in public affairs , whether in politics or in the public service the incompetence of some is ignored while those not well liked are taken to the cleaners; the present attorney general is an affable person but clearly out of his depth in a task for which he was not prepared. his cyrptic remark ” oh. i thought that was behind us” when asked for his comment on the last seizure of bajan fishermen in trinidad waters is a case in point and says a lot about his unpreparedness. however, i still cannot understand why Mr Stuart wasn’t hauled over the coals for misinforming the cabinet and causing the constitution to be changed to accomodate his bad advice.

  29. @ Hal Austin .
    The Commissioner is not a criminologist ; he is a lawyer holding an LLB and a legal Certificate from a law school in the region .

  30. I am aware that Dottin has a llB. But the previous commissioner, Durrant, was often described by the Nation as a criminologist.

  31. Sorry fellas, but i do understand that the current AG is a true and complete IDIOT, one has to remember how he got his job, he will always be unprepared. not to mention who his sidekick and best friend from school days (HC) has always been, and whom i understand he will always protect. Croneyism is also very destructive to a country, we have watched bim buckle until its now on its knees from these evil practices over the decades. The Thompson admin put the final nails in bims coffin with the political lineup of dont knows, not sures and unaware unless it affects them clowns. Thompson did not do the taxpayers any favors in choosing that cabinet of imbeciles, we can thank his huge ego and superiority complex for this predicament.

  32. Caswell
    Thanks – and merry Xmas. The attorney general is responsible for policing policy while the commissioner is responsible for operational details. So, as the reporting line manager, the AG must initiate any disciplinary proceedings.

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