The backlog in Barbados’ judicial system could be significantly reduced by making amendments to the law and giving magistrates more power, two senior jurists have suggested.
While some matters can only be heard by a judge in the High Court, a senior judicial officer and Queen’s Counsel Michael Lashley want legislative amendments made to allow magistrates to grant bail for some offences committed under the Sexual Offences Act and in matters involving small quantities of ammunition.
They are also in agreement that indictable offences such as murder, firearm possession and treason should be dealt with at the highest level.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, a magistrate who spoke on condition of anonymity said the powers of those presiding over the lower courts should also be extended to deal with some matters under the Offences Against the Person Act and the Theft Act.
“Those are offences which magistrates can deal with at the lower court instead of having them being dealt with at the High Court,” the source said.
“If a person is charged for having a single bullet, or a certain amount of ammunition, that is also a matter which can be dealt with in the lower court. There’s no reason why an accused charged with having one bullet can’t be dealt with at the Magistrates’ Court,” the magistrate added, although maintaining that due to the significant increase in firearm-related offences, matters under the Firearms Act should be heard only in the High Court.
But the judicial officer also contended that if the law was to be amended to allow magistrates to deal with those matters, increased security, among other issues, would have to be considered.
“If magistrates are going to be dealing with ammunition-related offences and given extended powers, certain conditions should come along with that, such as better salaries and better security, because our jobs would become riskier.”
The jurist also called for an end to murder accused appearing in the Magistrates’ Court.
“Matters that are strictly indictable, like murder and firearm-related [cases], should go straight to High Court for trial instead of coming here. Those matters can’t be dealt with by magistrates so it makes no sense them coming here because all we can do is remand them and wait for the file before sending it off,” the magistrate said.
Lashley, meantime, told Barbados TODAY that expanding the jurisdiction of magistrates would allow for a more efficient judicial system.
“By giving them more powers you would help to alleviate the backlog. That backlog is not at the lower court, it is at the High Court.
“While I agree firearm matters should remain in the hands of the High Court, a magistrate should be given the power to deal with certain ammunition cases where the quantity is not excessive,” he said.
The attorney maintained that magistrates should have jurisdiction to hear and deal with indecent assault matters under the Sexual Offences Act.
The former government minister also said he would like to see a timeline set for pre-trial disclosures to be presented. He said many cases were being held up due to police tardiness in handing over these documents to the defence.
“I want to see a law put into place which would limit the time when these disclosures can be made available. I think the prosecution should be given between six to eight months to present these files so we wouldn’t have a case where a year or two years pass and an accused still has not been served with disclosure,” Lashley said.
“Situations such as these are putting a strain on the judicial system and helping to contribute to the backlog.