The Organization of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Association (OCCBA) has called statements recently made by Prime Ministers Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Mia Mottley – Barbados, “unfortunate and disturbing.”
OCCBA in a release dated April 28th, referred to statements in the April 18th edition of the Daily Express where Gonsalves and Mottley were quoted saying: “… On the issue of the judiciary…too many of our judges and magistrates are too soft. Sometimes you get the impression that some magistrates, depending on who is the lawyer , their client seems to get better treatment…”. Further, Prime Minister Gonsalves stated “…how could you go and give somebody who is charged with murder bail? Let’s get serious!…where do these judges live? On mars?…”
While Mottley stated: “…when I practised law nobody got bail for murder…but when I look at the stats not only in the Bahamas and Barbados, but all through the region, the people who are causing the greatest problem are charged with two, three and four murders. Something is fundamentally wrong…”.
The OCCBA however joined to condemn what they called the “reckless and dangerous” statements by the influential Caribbean leaders.
“We feel compelled to remind the Prime Ministers that responsible leadership must not sacrifice the Rule of Law, constitutional principles, the presumption of innocence as well as the respect for regional justice systems and our judiciary on the altar of cheap sound bites and dangerous political rhetoric designed to score political points,” the release stated.
According to the release the leaders should recognize that the Commonwealth Caribbean legal system is built to “protect and preserve the following basic human rights and freedoms (to varying degrees and in different manners).”
Additionally the release stated that, “Any person who is arrested and charged with a criminal offence is presumed innocent and should be treated accordingly; Any person awaiting trial and kept in custody shall be entitled to bail on reasonable conditions unless sufficient cause is shown for keeping him in custody; The State (and by extension its leaders) must observe and respect human rights; and • The State (and by extension its leaders) must observe and respect the Rule of Law.”
It further stated that in the discharge of the leadership duties of the powerful and influential leaders they have to be careful, thorough and fair, being ever-mindful of their conduct, comments and remarks lest they appear to or become overzealous, unduly prejudicial and overreaching.
They stated that they have a duty to exercise their awesome and immense influence and powers responsibly, respectfully and in a circumspect manner.
The release noted that while they understand that while the public has a right to express their beliefs there is also the right to responsibly, respectfully and peacefully disagree with the decisions of the courts and to question the application of the law by the judiciary.
“However, we cannot agree that in the public discharge of their high political office that the Prime Ministers should make reckless utterances and remarks that may serve to or have the practical effect of undermining the justice system and the rule of law. The Prime Ministers electing not to be “circumspect” in the aforesaid circumstances is not, in our view, a sign of strength and vigilance by them but, conduct upon which we must comment adversely on this “exuberance” (particularly in the absence of any allegation of an irregular or perverse ruling from the bench).”
The OCCBA further added that they want to remind the Prime Ministers of their duty of the executive to ensure that the judicial systems would benefit from proper accommodation and facilities, and that the courts are properly staffed and resourced, so as to adequately tackle the many challenges, including the huge backlog of cases languishing at civil and criminal branches of various court systems.
“With the injection of much needed human, technological and financial resources, the wheels of justice are expected to turn more efficiently and effectively. We urge the Prime Ministers to increase resources to the judicial system and to reduce the rhetoric aimed at it,” they further pointed out.
The release explained that the judiciary is a separate and independent branch of government that should not be unduly interfered with by the political directorate.