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Justice systems in most Caribbean countries ‘broken’ – CCJ judge

Justice systems in most Caribbean countries ‘broken’ – CCJ judge

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A judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has described the justice systems in most Caribbean countries as “broken” – insisting that citizens deserve better through judicial reform.

This, according to justice Adrian Saunders, who made the remark while delivering his address at a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice and Magisterial Reform last Thursday, March 3, which took place at the Sunset Shores{{more}} hotel.

“It would be a fair characterization to say that in most, if not all, of our states, sadly, the criminal justice system is broken,” Saunders, who is Vincentian, asserted.

Citing an example of such, he said that recently, a man who had been in custody for nine years on a murder charge in a CARICOM country had had his case dismissed because a judge found that there was “no case for him to answer.”

“These are not uncommon things that happen throughout the region,” lamented Justice Saunders.

“Frankly, viewed objectively, all of this amounts to an abuse of the people of the Caribbean – especially because it not only involves a massive wastage of time and resources, but it also implicates the levity of the individual in a context where there is very little accountability. Caribbean people deserve a whole lot better.”

He added: “”This is not to say that there are not valiant efforts being made at introducing very useful reform initiatives… Criminal justice reform is not an easy task.”

The two-day meeting was part of the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) Project, which sees involvement from various CARICOM countries, the CCJ (as the implementing agent) and the Government of Canada, which has injected CDN$20 million into the project.

Victoria Charles-Clarke, the Director of Public Prosecutions in St Lucia, in her address, said that criminal justice reform is a “very vital and critical component.”

Charles-Clarke further noted that during the meeting, members of the advisory committee would review the findings of surveys and research conducted to facilitate the project, and this would allow them to assess how effective judicial reform has been working around the wider region, and what elements should be implemented within our own subregion.

“It is my hope that we will be able to arrive [at] or determine a work plan to chart the way forward for the implementation of the project.”

In her address, René Baptiste, president of the SVG Bar Association, said that the JURIST Project would help to “support the improvement in the delivery of criminal justice and the developments in magisterial reform.”

Baptiste said that this particular issue has been a “hot bed of activity” over the past few years within the OECS territory and the wider CARICOM area.

“All attempts geared at upgrading and enhancing of this magistracy would be more than welcome. We must keep pace and modernize with the administration of criminal justice within our state and across CARICOM…”

She further pointed out that a failure to do so can often lead to the tarnishing of a country’s reputation, by being associated with the “dark blemishes” of money laundering and violent crime.

“We must be equally strong, innovative and ready for the task but our lumbering criminal system and administration system has to keep pace with the imagination of the ICT in our midst.”

Also giving remarks was Sirah Abraham, Criminal Justice advisor to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, who acknowledged that jurisdictions across the Caribbean have been involved in “important” reform, which include video links (for the purpose of giving testimony), digital recording of interviews and developments in legislation.

“There is, however, room for improvement. It is my experience, and those of my colleagues, that donor organizations concerned with criminal justice could coordinate their efforts better…

“A truly comprehensive approach to Caribbean-wide reform can be taken.”

Attorney general Judith Jones-Morgan also gave brief remarks, and the event was chaired by local Director of Public Prosec-utions Colin Williams. (JSV)

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