The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Odd Usages and Access to Justice
For those few souls who take the time to read my weekly musings, I should apologize for my intermittent absences during the past two months or so. It is that time of the year when the life of a university lecturer is consumed with the reading and assessment of supervised research projects, mid term assignments, the completion of courses and preparation for end of semester examinations. When these are supplemented by attendances at obligatory meetings, the preparation of workshop presentations, the composition of other writings, and of sundry addresses to gatherings, it leaves one but little time only to compose a column of the desired quality within a given deadline. Hence the absence of a contribution in this space last week and two weeks prior.
Today’s contribution was assisted in some regard by the invitation to deliver an address on access to justice in the region to the partners of a prominent Toronto law firm visiting Barbados for their annual retreat.
Before I recount my thoughts on that area, however, I must make mention of two matters in the local press that aroused my interest in relatively recent days. The first is the report of an upcoming court martial by the Barbados Defence Force in which the rank is charged, inter alia, with the offence that he “communicated with the enemy.” I am almost certain that there may be such an offence, but I am still in wonder as to who or what constitutes an enemy of Barbados and why and what would a soldier be communicating with and to such an entity. There has been no further clarification up to the time of writing this. Are we no longer “friends of all, satellites of none” as to we so proudly boasted on attaining sovereign statehood in 1966?
The second item is from a radio advertisement that I overheard during the past week. I am not au courant with the styles of address of peerage and nobility, but it did strike me as amiss that the mother of the Honourable Prime Minister should be referred to as “Amor, Lady Mottley”.
On further researching the issue, I learnt that “the wife of the holder of a [British] knighthood is referred to by the courtesy title “”Lady (husband’s surname)” i.e. Lady Smith. Using Lady before their first name would be incorrect as that is the style for women holding a peerage courtesy title such as the daughters of high-ranking peers”.
Further, according to one source, “In the United Kingdom, the style “Lady Mary Smith” indicates that a woman is a holder of a peerage courtesy title in her own right, and is considered incorrect usage by the wife of a knight. In New Zealand’s more relaxed society, however, as there is no system of hereditary peerages, this convention is not always observed and the following styles may be used on occasions where the holder of the courtesy title considers it to be appropriate:
- Lady Mary OR Lady Mary Smith.
If a knight divorces and remarries, the current and former wife (or wives) who retains their current and former husband’s surname is/are entitled to use the courtesy title of “Lady”. There may be, therefore, several “Lady Smiths”. In those situations where there is more than one former wife living and entitled to use the courtesy title, a forename may be used; e.g.
- Mary, Lady Smith.
According to this, Sir Elliott’s wife should be properly referred to as “Lady Mottley”. The honorific “Amor, Lady Mottley” would be correct only in a circumstance where the couple is divorced or the marriage has been dissolved by death as in the arguably correct appellation last week of Yvonne, Lady Gollop, the widow of Sir Fred, at the renaming of Nation House. It would appear that the currently running advertisement is therefore guilty of incorrect usage. These things do matter to some and, indeed, may be conveying an unintended message!
As for the presentation on access to justice, I first made reference to the constitutional guarantee to be found in section 18 (8) of the supreme law, perhaps as much honoured these days in the breach as in the observance, to the effect that
“Any court or other tribunal prescribed by law for the determination of the existence or extent of any civil right or obligation shall be established by law and shall be independent and impartial; and where proceedings for such a determination are instituted by any person before such court or other tribunal, the case shall be given a fair hearing within a reasonable time”.
I also noted the injunction to the citizenry of former Prime Minister and now National Hero, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow, that if they were seeking justice, they should keep far from Coleridge Street (then the site of the courts). There is more truth to this injunction that might first appear even though I sense that Mr Barrow spoke with his tongue firmly fixed in cheek. First, while it may be a desirable incident of the application of the law, doing justice is subsidiary in the deliberations of the court. Second, the court trial is not by any means the sole mode of obtaining a desired justice solution, either in the strict sense; given the parallel existence of other informal and less formal institutions, such as a tribunal, commission, the Ombudsman or alternative dispute resolution mechanisms or even the socio-cultural institution of leaning on the influence of one’s MP or priest to secure a benefit or entitlement. Of course, it would be difficult to convince lawyers and even law students of the cogency of this, given their interest, as one writer has put it, in maintaining jurisdiction over the problems that people experience. Such jurisdiction is the bread and butter of the profession and their very raison d’être.
To Rebecca Sandfour, in an article entitled “Access to What?” the central issue is to identify the true nature of the problem. She writes, If the problem is people’s unmet legal needs, the solution is more legal services. If the problem is unresolved justice problems, a wider range of options opens up.
In my view, the latter more accurately reflects the current concerns of individuals than the former. And while there may be no paucity of legal services available in Barbados, we should rather concentrate our energies on the various modes of resolution of justice problems such as the alternative methods of resolving disputes surrounding eviction, debt collection, domestic violence, access to benefits, custody and maintenance of children, property issues, employment issues, and legal services complaints. Our problem may not be so much access to justice, but the timeliness of ogtaining it.This is a project worthy of pursuit by the purveyors of justice education in the region.