The Antigua and Barbuda Bar Association has joined its Commonwealth counterparts in condemning the recent statements made by Prime Ministers Mia Motley and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves targeting the judiciary of the region.
Prime Ministers accused judicial officers of favoritism to certain lawyers, who they say has been granting bail to murderers
Dr. Gonsalves said judges were being too lenient with murderers and called for harsher punishment, specifically the death penalty
But in a statement released today, the Bar Association said these remarks constitute an attack on the independence of the judiciary and regrettably reflect a disconnect from the realities of criminal behavior in society and the role of the Judiciary.
“Instead of focusing on the real issues impacting crime such as the lack of investment in youth, the family, education, the judicial system, the police, and the crown prosecution service, some leaders preferred playing the blame game – blaming everybody else but the politicians currently in office”
“The OECS Bar is truly disappointed at the missed opportunity at the symposium, in such an esteemed setting, in finding new and creative ways to tackle the scourge of crime, but instead leaving the headlines blazing and opportunistically focused on judges and magistrates who speak from their judgments and are in no position to defend themselves publicly against such attacks”, the Bar Association said
The statement said furthermore, that it is “especially disturbing that the offending statements came from two very admired former legal practitioners, one of whom was a formidable defense lawyer”
The attacks on judicial officers were wholly unfair, unfounded, uncalled for, and misplaced, according to the Bar Association
“Our Bar Associations in the region have been consistently calling, over the years, for an overdue injection of resources to boost our legal system long suffering from poor accommodation, woefully inadequate and ill-equipped supporting registries, a serious shortage of judges to meet the ever-growing demand of cases within the system and a lack of basic equipment and tools for transcription and other services ancillary to the work of judicial officers”, the statement continued.
The Bar Association continued to defend its members in the document, saying that it is well known that judicial officers are largely overworked and operate under less-than-desirable conditions.
“Examples abound in the Eastern Caribbean of governments not paying their required financial contributions to the court, causing serious embarrassment to the judiciary. Growing backlogs of cases in the High Court and Court of Appeal, seriously impacting the administration of justice, are not creations of the judiciary but stem largely from an under-resourced judicial system” they said.
The OECS Bar Association said while its members are not above criticism, the “Bar Associations must rise in the defense of judicial officers against unfair and unwarranted criticism, especially by agents of other arms of the State seeking to absolve themselves of responsibility and heaping blame on them in circumstances where they cannot defend themselves”
Adding, “the OECS Bar remains troubled by the statements of the two distinguished leaders, whose pronouncements carry great weight and influence in the region, and who know or ought to know the historical challenges within the legal system. Fortunately, judges are sworn to uphold the constitution and the law, not to follow the dictates of politicians”
In its continued defense the OECS Bar wishes said its constitutions mandate that every person charged with a criminal offense is entitled to the presumption of innocence and to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
“The presumption of innocence applies no less to persons charged with murder. In several jurisdictions across the region, bail has long been granted in murder matters. In any event, judges act judicially, not arbitrarily. Each bail application will be considered on its merit and a decision taken after considering well-established judicial guidelines. Bail is not automatic. Holding persons on remand for murder for long extended periods, in some countries for more than 10 and 15 years, without the possibility of bail, clearly infringes the guaranteed fundamental right to a fair trial,” the statement added