Chief Justice Marston Gibson recently sent an email to Andrew Pilgrim, president of the Barbados Bar Association. That email was also mysteriously and anonymously delivered to many Bajan blogs and every newspaper on the island. After reading this latest in the battle between the lawyers and the Chief Justice, all we can say to Mr. Gibson is… Give ’em HELL, Sir!
“The system which we have, with its court delays, is what the attorneys know, with the ability to bill for every court appearance. Obviously, then, the longer a case exists, the more likely it is to generate fees for an attorney handling that case. The problem is that there is, equally likely, a dissatisfied client who wonders why the case is taking so long to resolve and who, again likely, will be told “it’s the court’s fault.” If what is reported in the Sunday Sun says or implies that, then I stand by it.”
“There will be no more distribution of files by a single senior legal assistant neither will there be any more situations, reported to me anecdotally, of lawyers choosing WHEN to file a matter depending on WHICH Judge is doing chamber court. Random selection by computer will be the order of the day.”
… Chief Justice Marston Gibson blasts profiteering Barbados lawyers and slaps them upside the head with some new procedures.
From: Office of the Chief Justice
To: Mr. Andrew O. G. Pilgrim
President, Barbados Bar Association
Leeton, Perry Gap
Subject: Our 14 March 2012 Conversation
Dear Mr. President,
I refer to our conversation last evening, 14 March 2012, in which you intimated to me that the Bar Council, or a majority of them, were “up in arms” over a report in the Sunday Sun of 11 March 2012 of my address to the Fair Trading Commission (FTC). You indicated to me that they had written a letter which was “ready to go” to the newspaper “to print.”
My practice is to pick up the Sunday Sun at a gas station on my way home from church. This past Sunday I did not do so and did not see the report until a friend pointed it out to me on Tuesday 13 March, at which point I noticed some inaccuracies. The one glaring example related to the Court of Appeal. In attempting to “set the context” in which the proposed Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is to work, I stated that I had discovered 363 pending cases in the Court of Appeal, some filed long ago as 1993 and a few filed by attorneys who have since passed away. One of those attorneys, I pointed out, had been elevated to the same Court of Appeal, had died, but his pending matter was never heard. Other attorneys, I had noted to the audience, had been elevated to the High Court, had retired but their cases remain unresolved. Apart from a passing reference to attorneys who had passed away, there was not even a mention of the number “363″. I decided, however, to “let it be.”
What I had said to the FTC is that a large challenge will be to get “buy-in” to the concept of ADR from the Bar. This is not new. You and those of your Council members who attended will, doubtless, recall the lecture of Mr. Stuart Kennedy at the Bar Association in October last year when he noted the same thing. People are naturally suspicious of change and attorneys are no different. The system which we have, with its court delays, is what the attorneys know, with the ability to bill for every court appearance. Obviously, then, the longer a case exists, the more likely it is to generate fees for an attorney handling that case. The problem is that there is, equally likely, a dissatisfied client who wonders why the case is taking so long to resolve and who, again likely, will be told “it’s the court’s fault.” If what is reported in the Sunday Sun says or implies that, then I stand by it.
I also recall that, attending that lecture, was an eminent QC who remembered his initial reluctance at the ADR concept but, having had the scales removed from his eyes, now is the beneficiary of a reputation that he not only does things but he “gets things done.” That is what I meant by “buy-in” from the Bar – your clients will see you as someone who gets their cases resolved rather than as someone who is there when their “day in court” is transmogrified into “years in court” whether it is the court’s fault or not.
You mentioned your letter to me of 8 March 2012 which referred to a prior letter to me of 17 January 2012. I am in the course of replying seriatim to the 11 issues in 17 January letter. I am not sure why you or your Council members believed it sensible to ‘demanded’, in the January 17 letter, that I should resolve, “within 14 days of this correspondence” “a number of issues affecting the administration of justice which have been the subject of a number of meetings and written correspondence between the respective Chief Justices (including those acting in the post) and the Barbados Bar Association since October of 2009.” If my arithmetic serves me correctly, at the date of the 17 January letter, I had been in office exactly four months, two weeks and three days!
I will complete my reply to that letter after my meeting today with the Judges since many of the issues implicate how we Judges do business in the Supreme Court. I give you but one example. Issue number 1 in the 17 January letter asks that chamber court matters be scheduled by appointment. I am going to suggest to the Judges a temporary measure which I outline in my letter to you. But two of your members, Mrs. Angela Mitchell-Gittens and Mrs. Liesel Weekes accompanied Registrar Marva Clarke, Deputy Registrar Jackson and me on a visit to the Trinidad Courts at the end of January. They either have reported to you, or will report, to you that chamber court does not exist in Trinidad. All cases filed in Court are assigned to a Judge by random selection of JEMS. That Judge is then responsible for every application, motion, conference or pre-trial review of that case. We will adopt that system this year or early next year. There will be no more distribution of files by a single senior legal assistant neither will there be any more situations, reported to me anecdotally, of lawyers choosing WHEN to file a matter depending on WHICH Judge is doing chamber court. Random selection by computer will be the order of the day.
It is because several of your 11 issues have repercussions with the Judges, the fact that I was planning to visit Trinidad exactly 13 days after the date of your letter and, more simply, because, with four months’ experience, I had to “get the lay of the land” that I have not yet responded until I had something to say to you, at least something more than “I have received your letter and will get back to you when I can.”
I am not sure whether all of the above assuages what feelings of umbrage your Council members have taken but that is my position. You should be receiving my letter on Friday 16 March 2012.
Finally, Mr. President, and I will expand on this point in my responsive letter to you, I am concerned over the public diffidence at the pace at which the Disciplinary Committee works. I have received several complaints, some in writing but most of them verbally, especially during the Question and Answer sessions which invariably follow my public lectures. At one of the seminars on Criminal Law issues sponsored by the Bar Association which, regrettably was also not well attended, you stated that you supported amending the Legal Profession Act to tighten up the procedures by which disciplinary matters are handled. I hope that you, and your Council members, will see the wisdom in publicly allaying public concerns about this since, as outgoing Chief Justice Hugh Rawlins of the OECS recently said, it is imperative that the Bar retain, in some cases regain, the “trust and confidence imposed in it by the public.” I will continue to work on the public’s concerns with the Court system. I trust that the public can rely on you and your Council members to work on regaining its confidence in our noble profession.
Marston C. D. Gibson,