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Magistracy ease

The implementation of the paper committal system has received the thumbs up from judicial officers.

But while magistrates, prosecutors and defense attorneys have praised the system for its speediness in streamlining cases from the Magistrates’ Court to the High Court, they all agree it will create a bottleneck once it reaches that stage.

The paper committal system replaces preliminary hearings in indictable matters, allowing magistrates to sift through written evidence to determine if there is enough evidence to have it heard at the High Court.

Two magistrates who spoke to Barbados TODAY described it as a “blessing in disguise”.

They said they had been calling for such a system to be implemented for quite some time and it had eased the way in which business was done at the Magistrates’ Court.

“It is something which we welcome with open arms because it speeds up the process and there is no longer a situation where a defense attorney has to come in and cross-examine every witness,” one magistrate who asked not to be identified admitted.

“But the problem now is that these cases are being fast-tracked to High Court and that will create a bottleneck of sorts up there. To alleviate that situation more judicial officers at the High Court and in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions will have to be hired.”

Another magistrate contended that the system should have been introduced a long time ago.

That magistrate, however, also agreed it would cause a back-up of cases once they reached the High Court.

“As it stands right now there aren’t enough judges at the High Court to deal with the large number of cases which are being committed there,” the source said.

A senior prosecutor also welcomed the system, but he warned it would only be successful if all the agencies involved worked together.

“It is an effective system and it would help with the backlog but everybody has to work together. What has to happen is because the workload is being increased, you have to make provisions for more judges and more prosecutors at the DPP,” he said.

“If you are getting them up there quicker but don’t have the judicial officers to deal with them you will be back at square one.”

Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim is fully behind the paper committal system.

He said it allowed magistrates to use their discretion in determining whether a matter should be dismissed or not.

“Overall I would say that the system seems to be working well. The magistrates seem to be having a good approach to it generally and it allows a discretion by the magistrate to have defense counsel cross-examine witnesses who they think may affect the process of sending the matter on.

“At the end of the day, you don’t want magistrates sending on things that really should be stopped,” Pilgrim pointed out, saying that the magistrate’s role was to act as a “strainer”.

“But the obvious result of the system working more rapidly at the Magistrates’ Court is that the High Court is now where the backlog will be occurring. Every single magistrate sending up committal matters much more rapidly than before. We weren’t even keeping up when they were coming up slowly,” he added.

Pilgrim said once Government followed up on its promise to appoint three more judges soon it would help the situation.

He suggested that those cases which were 10 years or older should be “fed out” of the system as they were too old for trial.

Another defense attorney Mohia Ma’at also agreed.

“It’s fast-tracking the matters out of the Magistrates’ Court, but because of the bottleneck situation in the High Court they have to wait. In essence, it’s just that the wait in the Magistrates’ Court is shorter, but the wait before getting before a judge is longer,” Ma’at said.

This is not the first time for the appearance of the paper committal system as it was introduced more than two decades ago but had hardly been used over previous years.

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