CCJ president concerned about justice reform in Caribbean

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — President of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of J
ustice (CCJ) Justice Adrian Saunders on Wednesday warned that an inefficient criminal justice system has dire consequences for the cohesion of the social fabric, the economy, and the rule of law in the region.

Addressing the start of the three-day seventh Biennial Law Conference of the CCJ Academy for Law (CAL), Justice Saunders said it is important to first recognise that the criminal justice system is an intricate network of actors and systems, comprising multiple stakeholders.

“We have police, and prisons, and prosecutors; lawyers and judges; courts and legislatures; probation and welfare departments to name a few. Each has their own role, and jurisdiction, and priorities. But there must be at least a basic level of coordination among the various players that comprise the system if the system as a whole is to be effective,” he told the audience.

The conference is being held under the theme ‘Criminal Justice Reform in the Caribbean-Achieving a Modern Criminal Justice System’, which Justice Saunders said is “most timely, given the current state of affairs in the region”.

He said many Caribbean countries, governments, and ordinary citizens alike are rightly concerned about the alarmingly high incidence of crime in the region.

He recalled that in April this year, Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders met in Trinidad and Tobago for a special regional symposium addressing crime as a public health issue. Justice Saunders said that the symposium offered an opportunity for dialogue around the creation of avenues for regional action to address this scourge that faces us.

“I am pleased, therefore, that the academy has chosen to continue the dialogue and bring together stakeholders in the criminal justice system who can provide progressive and achievable solutions with a view to fashioning concrete recommendations for reform.”

The St Vincent and the Grenadines jurist recalled that a few years ago he gave an address in his homeland in which he noted then that, sadly, in some Caricom states the criminal justice system is broken.

“The evidence is all around us. Spiralling crime rates, inordinate delays in disposing of criminal cases, high remand populations in the prisons, low detection and conviction rates, antiquated case management processes, uncoordinated response initiatives by the prime stakeholders… and the list goes on and on.”

Justice Saunders, the third Caribbean national to head the Trinidad-based CCJ that was established in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the regions highest and final court, said these systemic weaknesses disillusion the citizenry and sap public confidence in the justice system.

“In particular, they frustrate accused persons, witnesses, victims of crime and their families. An inefficient criminal justice system has dire consequences for the cohesion of the social fabric, for the economy, and for the rule of law. How do we go about addressing the problem?”

He said that the conference here is driven by a common concern for the need to find solutions by and among the various judicial and law enforcement stakeholders.

“Over the next three days we will get the opportunity to hear from and consider the various vantage points as representatives from these groupings share their knowledge and experience and offer solutions to the common problems we experience.

“The idea is not simply to facilitate another talk shop, but rather to propose progressive and effective ways to grapple with the problems in the clear belief that the people of the region deserve better and are capable of doing better,” he said, adding, “Like you, I fervently look forward to our deliberations.”

According to CAL, the three-day conference intends to “facilitate dynamic discussions and generate practical recommendations that will effect meaningful change in the criminal justice systems of the region”.

The topics for discussions include the importance of pre-trial proceedings, plea bargaining, crime and economic development, civil asset forfeiture, victims’ rights, anti-gang legislation, modern evidence-gathering techniques, judge alone trials, and sentencing, among others.