Robert Ross: Courting Disaster – Justice Delayed in our Barbados Courts

Attorneys often unfairly blamed for delays in the courts

At the request of one of BFP’s prolific commenters, ‘Robert Ross’, we’ve opened a new page where Mr. Ross and others so inclined keep us all apprised of some of the court delays and other disasters in justice.

Mr. Ross is not a lawyer but in his own words was “in the law in my way for 44 years.” He obviously is still privy to stories and situations that the public doesn’t usually hear about. He also rightly observes that many of the delays are caused by the court system, but often it is the attorneys who are unfairly blamed.

Here’s the first contribution from Mr. Ross, and you’ll also find it at the top under the “Courting Disaster” tab. If Mr. Ross will continue to leave his work as comments or submit them via email or our contact page, we’ll be happy to maintain a central list of just how long folks have to wait for justice in our understaffed and inefficient Barbados courts.

robert ross
May 30, 2012 at 4:16 pm
@ BFP

Due Process in this blog refers to delay caused by attorneys. I have some sympathy with that, though not in relation to the criminal justice system. I do recognise, of course that Due Process’ perception is a common one – and it is one fuelled by information ‘pushed’ by the Free Presses – which is sometimes very misleading.

I am not a practising lawyer – though I was in the law in my way for 44 years. I am saying this to make the point that I have no axe to grind. I do have access to information, however, which would not be accessible by those who are not lawyers. So on this question of delay, I intend to publish ‘delay’ situations as I meet them in the hope of achieving a better understanding of its causes. I will publish them in the most recent posts – if you will permit me.

Here are two cases which came my way today. Both relate to family matters.

Case 1 – Access

The case came up for hearing in mid-March. A Welfare report was ordered and the case adjourned till early April. At the April hearing there was no report. The case was adjourned till end of May. At the May hearing there was still no report. The same lawyers appeared on all three occasions.

The Welfare Department is over stretched and there was difficulty in locating one of the parties for Welfare to compile the report..

Case 2 – Custody

Middle March a Welfare report was requested by the Court. The case was heard in middle-to-late May. There was no Welfare report. The day before this hearing, the attorney for one party discovered that though the Court Clerk had drafted the letter to Welfare, in fact it had never been sent. Case adjourned till mid June.

You will understand that in neither of these cases were the attorneys at fault.

BFP – perhaps you might like to keep a record.

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16 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Consumer Issues, Crime & Law

16 responses to “Robert Ross: Courting Disaster – Justice Delayed in our Barbados Courts

  1. robert ross

    I had no idea – but thankyou BFP for taking it up in this way.

  2. BFP

    Hi Robert Ross

    We’ve been hearing so many horror tales from the court we think that your idea is great. We’re looking forward to whatever you can round up. Sooner or later if we let folks know, it has to change. Silence empowers those responsible for the mess!

    Thanks for your efforts.

  3. Tony Webster

    Court “process”, is a bit of a sick joke. Even when caught; convicted; and sentenced to a fine, our Courts are well-known, and publicly reported, for only “discovering” the fact of non-payment, after the same convict makes a repeat appearance – often fortuitously- before the same judge/magistrate! This may explain the disdain evident a certain category of our citizens, who blatantly scorn our laws/ law-officers/ and now, our Courts! Anybody running the ship? Or SS Barbados just drifting blithely along…

  4. Sam Shank

    The “Accidental Bumbling Prime Minister” is supposed to be the Captain of SS Barbados, but he is not capable. Time for a mutiny sorry I meant election.

  5. robert ross

    Case 1 (above)

    I have further information gleaned today.

    Apparently in May Welfare wrote to the Court via Registry to explain the delay in submitting the report. The reasons were good ones. The letter was received by Registry but never put into the Case File. Thus it never reahed the Court for the May hearing. Welfare was not at fault. The fault lies with Registry.

    Case 3

    This is a generic problem within the Criminal Justice system. Whether an accused person is granted Bail or put on remand, a date will eventually be set for pre-trial disclosure.. At that date the defence should receive a copy of all the evidence against the accused. A date is then fixed for the trial to begin. If, on the date fixed for pre-trial disclosure, the prosecutor is not ready, the case is adjourned. If, at the date then fixed for pre-trial disclosure the prosecutor is still not ready, the case is adjourned again and so on and so on..

    All too often the prosecutor is not ready and so proceedings limp on – sometimes for as long as two years. I personally know of a young boy who was initially refused bail and was remanded for 10 months before being granted bail. Two months on from the grant of bail there has still been no pre-trial disclosure.

    The fault here lies squarely with the police. The inherent delay makes a mockery of the presumption of innocence where a person is held on remand and magistrates appear weak in failing to instruct prosecutors that a case will be dismissed if after, say, three failures to meet the pre-trial disclosure date the prosecutor has failed to do so.

  6. ac

    wait maybe i have a different set of rules but if i am paying an attorney to represent me i expect the attorneys to follow up on all aspects of the case . in the above cases where the welfare officer is to present a letter the attorneys should followed up through correspondence as to whether the necessary paper work was sent to the court and also asking and seeking information from the court as to whether it had received necessary paper work from the respondent. in other words none of the attorneys should have to wait on the court for the eleventh hour to be advised of further delay in my opinions there is enough blame for the attorneys for not following up on the clients behalf

  7. ac

    it seems to me that in all of the above cases mentioned there is a troublesome lack of communication among the attorneys and the upper echelons of the judicial system as if the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing and as a result the clients are severely punished before trial. the justice system is one of communication. a good lawyer is define through communication and it is evident here that what is going on is a disconnect between the highest levels in the judicial system and lawyers.without the ability to communicate everyone losses there way and the judicial system will remain in constant gridlock.

  8. robert ross

    @ AC

    You have a point in a way I suppose. To be fair, it’s not the job of the attorney to do the job Registry is charged to do even assuming that attorneys had that kind of time. That may sound patronising but in an average day a ‘busy’ litigation lawyer is rushing from court to court, then seeing clients in the afternooon and all the rest. It’s not really his job to do what others are charged with doing. You’ll see that in my second case, however, it was an enterprising attorney who discovered what hadn’t happened. The case still had to come before the Court for the adjournment to be ordered. Now – you might want to say that in that case, where Registry is aware there is no report it should inform the Court which would then order the adjournment without any requirement that the parties and lawyers attend, at least if there’s time to do that. Thanks for taking an interest.

    What I’m trying to do, as you’ll realise, is to pinpoint areas where the system is breaking down and try to find solutions rather than simply generalise without reference to the realities – generalities of the ‘he caused it’, ‘he saved it’, ‘they’re all plonkers’ kind.

  9. ac

    ross to be frank i don’t understand that kind of mentality “It is not my job” for christ sake a client has a problem who is suffering and needs rapid help and here the attorney says it is not there job to make a few calls or hire an assistant to follow up on important information first of all this is not about the lawyer but the clients interest and placing blame on an agency or part of a judicial system who is bogued down or tardy with work is not the answer the answer is for the lawyer who is being paid handsomely to pull out all stops necessary in an effort to get quick relief for the client it looks like everyone is just waiting to place blame. right away you have an excuse but no solution!

  10. robert ross

    AC

    Hire an assistant? You do want to push up costs don’t you. In the family cases I’ve cited the problem has been delay not cost. The attorneys I know do not charge for their time in cases where through no fault of their own client there has been an adjournment.

    I thought I’d posted a fourth case today addressed especially for you on the issue of communication.

    Here it is.

    Case 4

    Attorneys attended at Holetown today.. When they got there they were told that there was no Court because the magisrate was away. Another day was suggested by a police officer in association with the Court clerk. The attorneys were already booked for the day suggested and another day was agreed.

    It’s not a question of quick relief in these delay cases. IF the system is not ‘ready’ there is nothing the lawyer can do except appear and then appear again at the next adjournment date..Knowing that the system is ‘on the blink’ in advance is of no benefit to the client., still less for the lawyer who must still appear.

    Of course, AC, if you want to blame the lawyers for everything, please feel free to do so. Would you want to say that in my case 4, the attorneys should have become magistrates to fill the gap? Everyone has their job to do. The system breaks down when it is not being done by those charged with doing it.

    One last thing. The idea of getting ‘quick relief’ is a bit simplistic. Try telling that to the contumacious parent who is trying to wriggle out of his maintenance obligations. I will be interested to see what your next comment is.

    I repeat the object here is to pinpoint areas where the system is breaking down and, so far as possible, offer solutions. What would yours be IF you want to be constructive?

  11. robert ross

    Case 5

    At present attorneys are expected to turn up at 9-0 in the High Court for their matters to be heard. In practice this means that everyone is waiting around until their particular matter is heard. This may mean a waiting itme of three hours or so.

    Solution – introduce an appointments system so the attorney knows roughly when he will be needed.

    This idea was suggested by Anonlegal in another place. In one case that came to my attention the problem was compounded when Registry had not listed the case for the judge.

  12. ac

    listen ross every situation is not the same so highliting one of the cases where the judge was away is just simply trying to manuever around one of the major causes of much delay .even in the example cited wether it be the judge or registry fault the same theme keeps recurring lack of communication.why i keep saying that is that all of the parties involved seem to be at a disconnect and everyone keeps going around in circles. The judge ! the magistrate ! the registry ! the court clerk ! the whole system is totally out of control.you keep saying “simple” maybe that is the problem that all of the above mentioned has made the system too complicated that even themselves can’t follow. In one word “dysfunctional”

  13. robert ross

    AC

    You are missing the point of the exercise and changing your ground as you go CF the only thing you said on the BU post on ‘Tales’. Strange that you should suddenly take such an avid interest.

    One last time. The idea is to find actual examples of delay instead of speaking in generalities – generalities like ‘dysfunctional’, ‘it’s all the lawyers’ fault’. I find nothing constructive in your approach and it is ALL TOO FAMILIAR. OK? Now I shall continue to post the examples and will leave it at that. Comment as much as you like. The idea is to log the examples.

  14. ac

    “strange that you should suddenly take such an avid interest!” why the paronia? no wonder the judicial system is so tied up because people like yourself only see the other side of what is wrong but when everyone is included the typical response is “not my fault”

  15. robert ross

    Case 6

    An attorney made two appointments with clients, one for 8.0am the other at 8.30am. Neither client turned up. Neither phoned in to say they would be late. One client turned up at 11.0am. By that time the attorney was somewhere else.

    I’m sure this is a very common occurrence. Conclusion: some clients can be very negligent about their own affairs and, from an attorney’s perspective, a ‘waste’ of time.

    Case 7

    See my Case 3. In this case the accused was first refused bail and then granted it, the first in December, the second in January. Now (June) the lawyers turned up on a ‘mention’ date (to see how things were progressing). The prosecutor could not say. He had no file, he said.

  16. kimesha

    There are times when the lawyers are really at fault. As a retired reporter, I know of cases where pre-sentencing reports were completed and because the attorneys were having problems mitigating for their clients, they pick to pieces the report and waste time in court asking the writers of the reports if they interviewe Habra, Dabra and the crew. Then they ask for an adjournment to get additional information that could be written in one sentence. It has been noticed also that when the attorneys are paid by legal aid, they do not like those cases and many times they do not go to interview the client if he is on remand at the prison. Instead, they wait until the report is sent to them, then they rush up at the prison and try to make the client say that they did not say this or that to the reporter, then they come back to court and try to make the reportek look as though he or she did not do a good job. It is sickening*@)_^%. Attorneys need to work for their money and stop depending on the reports of the writers.It tantamounts to DISHONESTY.

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