High Court may add new judge to assist Justice Brian Cottle
In order to cope with the long list of criminal matters still awaiting trial, the High Court is determining whether an additional judge should be appointed to assist Justice Brian Cottle.
Defence Attorney Jomo Thomas was the first to comment from the private bar at the close of the High Court assizes on August 2, and it was he who spoke on the issue of the backlog of cases.
He noted that, at the recent launch of the National Prosecution Service, “No one talked about the importance of adding another judge to engage in criminal trials, and I think that is of vital importance for us to have such a judge.”
“It has affected all of us who practice at the criminal bar,” the lawyer stated.
He spoke of a client of his who was sentenced in the assizes, and said, “had we had more judges engaged in criminal trials, Richards (his client) might have gone to the court before when he did.”
Richards had been on remand awaiting trial for five and a half years before he pled guilty to manslaughter. The automatic discount that prisoners receive when going into prison with their final sentence, was not applied to the five and a half years Richards had already spent incarcerated.
“Had he been sentenced earlier, he would have been coming out in September,” Thomas summarized.
“I think that cries out for another judge,” he emphasized.
“Some will say well why didn’t he plead guilty once he got in? Well I think the more important and fundamental question is, on issues of liberty, ‘why doesn’t the state provide for its institutions to be able to properly deal with persons who are properly before the law’,” the lawyer continued.
Justice Brian Cottle was presiding, and he addressed Thomas’ comments. “The state of the list is something that the court is alive to and I have been speaking with the learned Director of Public Prosecutions (Sejilla McDowall),” the Justice informed.
He continued, “it is all well and good to make comments in a vacuum but I found that it would be preferable to get the information so I have secured from the learned Director a compilation of all of the matters which are awaiting trial.”
Cottle assured that he was going through this list, and removing matters which “for one reason or another” ought not to be on that list.
After this the judge said he will have a realistic picture of what remains to be done, and report this information to the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court(ECSC), Dame Janice Pereira.
“She will bear that in mind when she decides whether or not she should make arrangements for a second criminal judge,” Cottle noted.
Further, he pointed out “Recall as well that a second criminal court is not just sending a warm body, we have to find a physical space, that is established, and that will accommodate a second court. That is not as easy as it seems.”
However, Cottle ended by assuring that the matter is something that is being thought of, and actively being worked on.