If You Asked Me, Letters & Opinion

Just Ice-Cold Shoulders

Image: Is the Saint Lucian justice system itself unjust by design?


Image: Is the Saint Lucian justice system itself unjust by design?
Is the Saint Lucian justice system itself unjust by design?

“JUSTICE will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
― Benjamin Franklin

Judging by the number of people seeking justice via the media in the past week, I get the sense that many people are looking for something they will never find. Something tells me that those seeking answers to their long-held questions are asking too much from a system that offers very little but not mature enough to digest the criticisms that call for better. Justice, it seems, is as cold as the icy hands that are supposedly turning its wheels.

Justice was called out this week when an irate parent questioned the rationale behind her sons being denied bail for murder five years ago while a sixteen-year-old girl was granted bail for a similar offence last month. According to the mother, justice must be seen to be fair to everyone, regardless of sex.

Another case putting justice on the stand this week involved Alisha Hunte. Her mother and aunts appeared on television outside the temporary courthouse pledging to keep her memory alive as they continue to wait five years after the former beauty contestant’s murder. As the years pass, they say, the wounds remain fresh from the lack of closure.

The Jonathan “Ninja Dan” St. Rose matter also made the news this week, with the former soca star and his two co-defendants making a court appearance. Seven years since the stabbing death of Dwayne “Chubby” James, the victim’s mother, Magdalene, says she is still finding it difficult to fill the void created when she lost her son. That agony is amplified whenever she attends the court proceedings only to find out that another adjournment has been racked up.

There was also the recent case at Marchand Boulevard where a former female law enforcement officer claimed that a male police officer manhandled her while police attempted to search her home for stolen items. According to the woman, no search warrant was produced before the search team made their way into her home. She accused the male officer of touching her intimately.

These were just four of the call-for-justice stories making the news this week. However, there are many more that fall under the radar, due in part to some people’s acceptance that their time and energies are best spent seeking something less daunting. Too many Saint Lucians are still finding just ice-cold shoulders when seeking justice. And the number is growing too fast.

In July 2014, a local advocacy group, Remand Justice, reported that 369 of the 634 prisoners incarcerated at the Bordelais Correctional facility were on remand. That’s a remand rate of 58.2%. Further, 34 inmates had been on remand for five or more years.

According to Remand Justice, a prisoner’s letter to the group claims that between 20 to 40 prisoners are taken to court at a time to meet one trial judge. Remand Justice’s response to such a situation was a multifaceted one, including the following:
• Immediate activation of a second criminal court
• The appointment of a master for case management
• The implementation of alternative (non-custodial) sentencing
• A review of existing remand population and penal population with a view to reducing the population at Bordelais on a case-by-case basis
• Increasing revenue to offset the increased costs outlined in the preceding points
• The processing of delays
• A review of the existing coroners system and exploring the option of a hybrid coroners/medical examiners system

By last month, there were 357 inmates on remand at the Bordelais Correctional Facility, compared to 258 inmates who have been sentenced.

One member of Remand Justice, Jerry George, told me yesterday that while some improvements have been made in the areas they proposed, much more needs to be done to make the justice system work efficiently, effectively and in the best interest of Saint Lucians. Nevertheless, he said Remand Justice will continue to spread the awareness campaign to keep the discussion alive.

Mere days prior to her taking up pre-retirement leave late last year, Director of Public Prosecutions, Victoria Charles-Clarke, said that while several reforms had been undertaken in the criminal justice system to speed up the actual committal process resulting in more cases now being ready for trial than had been in the past, systemic problems in the system persist.

For instance, when the court sat for the three-month-long Assizes in 2004, there were about 100 cases in the High Court that year. By last year, however, there were about 1,900 cases in the high Court of which 500 were ready for trial.

The “just delayed is justice denied” chorus is so overwhelming that even the European Union has chimed in. Jumping onto the human rights bandwagon as did the United States, the EU has given Saint Lucian authorities a three-month window to prove that the island’s justice system can move past its perennial inertia and actually work in its citizens’ interest. By next month-end, Saint Lucians might well find out whether their voices matter less than that of the EU.

But while IMPACS would have been making the rounds lately, one needs to get a clear explanation from the incoming DPP as to how that office intends to proceed on the matter regarding the Report on the Financial Operations of Town, Village and Rural Councils report released over two years ago. In an election year, it would not be surprising that some politicians would be quoting from that report as they make stump speeches. Is that the kind of justice our society deserves, one that serves a purpose at a specific (and selective) time?

I’m a distant cry from being an attorney, so the only justice I have come to rely on is the poetic. But I think the half-hearted attempts we make at making justice at least seem to work in society’s interest is a farce. Too many people are looking for something they cannot find while too many are taking credit for fixing clay pigeons that seem irreparable.

In this election year, critical issues like health care, income tax, social welfare, job creation, low income housing, better education curricula, crime reduction and justice reform should be among the key campaign issues being debated among the candidates. This is all the more reason why moderated political debates are necessary instead of the usual off-colour rhetoric that passes for stump speeches.

I couldn’t care less about who thinks they can do a better job at getting a job than the other or who is too Granny-like or childlike to lead. What I’m interested in is a government that implements the basic structures of a modern-day sovereign nation and actually sustains it. If you asked me, politicians have become as predictable as the tide’s ebb and flow. We have heard nothing new from them, even from the newcomers.

For this Independence, many speeches will be made on many sides of the political divide promising people grandiose things. What would be nothing short of a deserved Independence gift, though, would be an announcement of the reopening date of the ill-fated forensics lab, a commitment to speedy trials by hiring enough court officials and an end to the lengthy delays in the justice system that often leads to a sense of hopelessness.

There are some things that should not be given the blanket excuse of “We would have like to do that, but due to limited resources….”

Stan Bishop began his career in journalism in March 2008 writing freelance for The VOICE newspaper for six weeks before being hired as a part-time journalist there when one of the company’s journalists was overseas on assignment.

Although he was initially told that the job would last only two weeks, he was able to demonstrate such high quality work that the company offered him a permanent job before that fortnight was over. Read full bio...

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