Statement from Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Dale Marshall, in response to an article published in the Daily Nation of July 11, 2019, entitled “Judges in a bind”.
I note with interest the report in today’s Nation with the headline “Judges in a bind”. That story raises two issues. The first dealing with the Constitution of Barbados and the second one dealing with the conduct of criminal trials in Barbados.
I am of course wary in any response because, as an advocate of many years, I am only too well aware of the danger in responding to a sound bite and a headline, which may not carry the full account of what was said in the court.
One judge of the Court of Appeal is reported as having said that the courts find themselves in a conundrum because the Constitution has not been amended and seems to be suggesting that the Parliament of Barbados has to make amendments to the Constitution so as to facilitate hanging.
I don’t want to get into an argument with our esteemed judges outside of the Court, but I do not agree that there is any conundrum at all. Arising out of the decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the Barbadian case Nervais and Severin, the Parliament of Barbados has acted to amend all such laws, including the Constitution, in order to permit our Courts to impose the death penalty if warranted.
I admit there was an issue with the sole amendment to the Constitution that was rejected by the Senate, but that has been resolved, and the Constitution has been amended accordingly, and was proclaimed on April 4 this year.
In the decision of Nervais and Severin, the CCJ ruled on the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Offences Against The Persons Act relating to the mandatory death penalty.
All of those amendments have been made, and as far as we are concerned – and we have consulted at every stage with the Director of Public Prosecutions – all is in order for murder trials to proceed in Barbados, and for the death penalty to be imposed under law.
In that regard, I can say to the country that yes there were some issues where the judges felt that absent the constitutional amendment, which had paused in the Senate late last year, they were not certain that they should proceed with criminal trials.
That amendment having been sorted out and proclaimed on April 4, having consulted with the DPP, the courts are in a position and are ready to do murder trials.
In fact, there are a number of murder trials that are scheduled to be heard for the rest of the year. The High Court of Barbados will go on its annual holiday in August, but I’m assured by the DPP that there are a number of murder trials waiting and ready to be commenced as soon as the court holiday is ended.
We had expected to put some additional criminal judges in place, but the fact is people don’t put their careers on hold and we have had some challenges with the availability of the individuals. Those matters have now been resolved, and I expect that come the start of the court year in September we will have those additional temporary judges in place.
But also because of the active recruitment of new judges, we will, without doubt, see a criminal court in Barbados being constituted with at least four High Court judges and this will make a big difference in helping us to get our criminal trials, especially murder trials, through the system.