Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Court In Disaster

Things I discovered today and questions that I raised to myself.

While a Jamaican man acting as a mule can injest more than 80 packets of a controlled substance (aka ganja) in an effort to avoid detection nature will disclose the evidence within a day. His arguments may run something like, "A man did hask me fi brin' in de drugs and some wun wudda help me wen me reach a Barbados." This can be translated as "I am such a bone head that I cannot realise that if I travel with Air Jamaica I am immediately under suspicion as a possible drug trafficker. Imagine how stupid I must be to actually have drugs on my person for the purpose of trafficking."

In what I can only describe as 'typical' in the locality, where 'that's how it is' is how it is, there is no notice of the dress code sent with a summons to appear in court. Imagine how hard that would be to do, and how it could possibly avoid telling people as they are being registered for their star appearances the elements of standard island wear that are not accepted in the court room. I mean, what can you do at the entrance to the court, conjour up a new outfit?

A man wearing an earring cannot expect to get a hearing in local courts, nor can he present a good case. I cannot figure out how it is that a woman wearing earrings gets a fair hearing or can make a good case; women's ears have clearly developed differently in Barbados. There is a part of me that asks about nose rings (either gender), navel rings (covered, of course; either gender), and tongue rings (either gender). Toe rings (females only) seemed to not derail the course of justice.

Also, in the unfair way that ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law, the dress code posted outside the court is not the full or only thing, as another slightly different code appears on the notice inside the court--it includes 'no slits'. I dared not ask the female police officer what that meant. But, it did not seem to cover the pseudo-Chinese sarong that one offensive female trafficker was wearing. Oh, Barbados!

I am totally at a loss regarding the definition of a tidy hairstyle given what I have witnessed. For a lawyer or court officer or police officer (either gender), short hair, loose or braided. For a real bandito (only males), dreadlocks or braids, loose or tied. For traffic offenders (either gender), shaved head through bushy hair, no braids. For witnesses or those posting bail the rules appear to have not been applied, and the courts seem at a loss regarding how to treat Rasta women, other than with contempt. Why else would the magistrate ask only her amongst a slew of bail providers if her home was a chattel house, and with that sardonic grin on his face? Of course, a magistrate's contemptible behaviour cannot be contempt of (his) court. But that is not courting favours in the eyes and minds of those who witness it, I humbly submit, your Worship.

Court officials tell attendants to speak up and speak clearly then proceed to mumble all the time themselves, such that those trying to hear are constantly asking for repetition. Add to that the beautiful wooden floor, on which persons walk constantly in heavy shoes, and much of the proceedings are inaudible. If it were being recorded most of what would be heard would be 'thud, thud, your worship, thud, thud, guilty, thud, thud, objection...'

Why are the islands potentially guilty banditos given face time ahead of the equally potentially guilty traffic offenders? Traffic offences are not complex and involve no one standing in leg irons or handcuffs. They can be disposed of fairly quickly and so the economy would benefit if the apparently economically active would be allowed to get back to their work rather than having to sit through a few hours of motions denied, objections, requests for bail, presentation of sureties, etc. With an island that has record road density and traffic ownership the idea of special traffic courts (not for drug offences) would seem apt. Why should traffic offenders have to listen to police prosecutors speak like those who failed auditions for 'Perry Mason', with empty lines such as "the weight of the evidence is so strong..."? What little law I know suggests that the court decides if the evidence is strong, not the police, but if you say it with a serious enough face and jab your finger at someone it may seem true.

Why are cases of a 'certain vintage', let's say 5 years, being brought to courts and police not providing pre-trial disclosures all of that time and telling a magistrate that they do not have the file to proceed today?

One thing that was very clear was that most traffic offenders were guilty and prepared to plead that way. They most they hoped for was some leniency. No, not B$300 for not stopping at a stop sign. Or, the dog ate my driving permit, and with eleven children to feed, your Worship, do charge me B$250. So, in the time it took to figure out that only one of five alleged assailants had no lawyer, about 10 traffic cases could have been dealt with. The courts could have been there for the pleasure of those already enjoying Her Majesty's pleasure.

I also saw that traffic offenders invariably dress quite well, at least for court. Real violent bandits (machete wielders and fist bashers) do look like they have come from a fight, with their low slung pants, hair whose untidiness should have excluded them from appearances, and heads, faces and hands that bear 'signs of a struggle' not with life in general but with at least one other person. Drug trafficking bandits were dressed similarly but appeared to have escaped facial or manual injuries--aside from bruising by handcuffs.

But the law is powerful. When the magistrate said, "Keep away from each other" to two reported adversaries who had been violent with each other I imagine that he felt that would really work. Which makes me wonder why bother with the rest of the proceedings, when you could just make such utterances and let the world turn properly.

The traffic offenders were all glad that they were not due to spend any time at Her Majesty's pleasure in the pokey--and I use that term carefully when referring to places like Dodds, of which one has heard some unpleasant stories of unwanted attention. They were glad to get back to teaching other people's children, or being able to deal with their own children, or getting back to their offices or businesses. The pain of a visit to the cash machine was bearable for most.

I like the US system of assessing a fine for a minor traffic infraction or giving someone the option of appearing in court. The Americans have realised that most sensible and generally law-abiding people do not want to bother with seeing the justice system trying to work and will pay up without question rather than waste tax payers money and their own time. I wonder, just a little wonder, if such a radical notion could take hold here. I wonder....

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