Notes From a Native Son: Is Barbados a Failed State?

Hal Austin

Introduction:
Chief justice Marston Gibson has recently slapped down the Barbados Bar Association, the lawyers’ trade union, for its impertinence in questioning how he does his job. It did not come a minute too soon. There is a culture of elitism in Barbados in which some professionally and socially well-connected people feel, as if by nature, they have a right to be excepted from the normal courtesies. It is an arrogance which has emerged to substitute for substance in other areas of their lives, such as the poverty of progressive ideas and of cultural understanding.

But, and it is relevant to the issues I want to raise in this blog, within the legal profession there is an absence of any significant liberal tradition in Caribbean (Barbadian) legal thought. I have raised this issue before to much disdain. Like the societies they regulate, what passes for legal thought is based on a Victorian social conservatism, which pre-dated human rights theory, and in which outdated practices such as hanging still play a central role in the legal imagination and, as a direct result, the idea of criminal justice.

Two dominant influences shape our deeply conservative criminal law tradition: the so-called Westminster model (lawmaking), based on the UK’s parliamentary tradition, and the common law model, based again on the England and Wales tradition of statute and case law. Linking both these traditions is the doctrine of the rule of law, the principles rooted in the Magna Carta, which stipulate that the state must have legitimate grounds for depriving a citizen of her/her liberty and right to property. One hybrid political position best exemplifies this tradition, that of attorney general.

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