Judiciary of Barbados
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The Judiciary of Barbados is an independent branch of the Barbadian government, subject only to the Barbadian Constitution. It is headed by the Chief Justice of Barbados. Barbados is a common law jurisdiction, in which precedents from English law and British Commonwealth tradition may be taken into account.
There are three levels of courts in Barbados, structured as follows:
- The Magistrates' Courts
- The Supreme court, made up of:
- The High Court
- The Court of Appeal
- Caribbean Court of Justice
The Constitution places the Caribbean Court of Justice at the pinnacle of the Barbados Judicial System. The Court has two types of jurisdictions: appellate jurisdiction and original jurisdiction.
In its appellate jurisdiction, the Court serves as the final court of appeal from any decision given by the Barbados Court of Appeal in civil and criminal matters. In its original jurisdiction, the Caribbean Court of Justice is a court of first instance which applies rules of international law in respect to the interpretation and application of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. In its original jurisdiction, it exercises both exclusive and compulsory jurisdiction in: 1. Disputes between Contracting Parties to the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice; 2. Disputes between any Contracting Party to the Agreement and the Caribbean Community; 3. Referrals from national courts or tribunals of Contracting Parties to the Agreement 4. Applications by persons in accordance with the Caribbean Court of Justice Act concerning the interpretation and application of the Treaty.
The Court also has exclusive jurisdiction: (i) to deliver advisory opinions concerning the application of the Treaty upon request of Contracting Parties or the Community; and (ii) where there is a dispute as to whether the Court has jurisdiction in a matter, to decide whether the Court has such jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice is exercised in accordance with Rules of Court governing proceedings in the Court’s appellate and original jurisdictions.
The Magistrates' Courts (lower court) have of summary jurisdiction dealing with civil, family, and criminal matters. But can also take up matters dealing with Coroner's Inquests, Liquor Licences, and civil marriages. The Magistrates' Courts also deal with Contract and Tort law where claims do not exceed $10,000.00.
The Magistrate courts in Barbados include:
- District A | Bridgetown, Saint Michael
- Criminal Court
- Traffic Court
- District A & C | Saint Matthias, Christ Church
- District B | Saint George
- District B | Oistins, Christ Church
- District C | See under Saint Matthias
- District D | Saint Thomas & District F (Belleplaine, Saint Andrew)
- District E | Speightstown, Saint Peter
- Holetown, Saint James
- District F | Saint Joseph
Supreme Court of Judicature
The High Court has a more expansive jurisdiction than the magistrates courts - dealing with serious civil and criminal matters and together with the Court of Appeal, acting as a Court of Appeal for matters coming from the magistrate courts. The Court of Appeal may also hear appeals from the High Court. The High Court and the Court of Appeal make up the Supreme Court. It may sit as a single Justice of Appeal in Chambers, or as Full Court of three Justices of Appeal.
All criminal cases (both summary and indictable) commence in the Magistrates' Court. Summary cases are heard in full by the Magistrates' Court. Indictable cases proceed to the High Court after a preliminary inquiry is conducted to determine that there is a prima facie case to answer. Once judgement is passed, a case may be appealed by either party and will then proceed to the Appeal Court. The number and severity of criminal cases dealt with by each level of the courts varies, as does the level of detail that is recorded (specifically the reasons for adjournment).
Barbados is one of three nations (along with Guyana and Belize), that recognises the Caribbean Court of Justice as their final court of appeal. In matters of human rights, Barbados is one of a handful of countries in the Americas, and the only one in the Anglophone Caribbean that fully accepts judgements by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In 2011 some pressure was placed on the government to withdraw from the Inter-American Court. Like Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados applied for reserve powers dealing with death penalty (for persons convicted of murder) as these laws were aspects statutory law inherited from the United Kingdom. The government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago which was unsure of receiving such a waiver and formally withdrew its intent of ratification to the IACHR. It appears unlikely that Barbados will be granted such a waiver per recent statements by the IACHR.
Recent polls in Barbados have showed favourable support for the return of capital punishment to general usage for persons convicted of murder. This of course is only carried out after a lengthy process of appeals. In sharp contrast to Barbados, Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago also all within CARICOM instead utilizes the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.
In the 1990s the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (of the United Kingdom), ruled that Barbados' Constitution was clear with respect to the death penalty. However, it ruled that to carry out such sentences it required that Barbados and other Caribbean Islands carry out trials at a quicker pace. In response to this verdict, the Barbados government announced that the country would be leaving the jurisdiction of the Privy Council and would further consider becoming a republic. Since then, calls have continued to be made by members of the local legal profession ridiculing the length of time which court cases in Barbados take to be fully adjudicated. Other criticism has been that the court process was appearing to be breaking down.
Since Barbados left the jurisdiction of the JCPC, similar sentiments have been expressed and re-iterated in 2010 by the Caribbean Court of Justice which Barbados replaced the JCPC with.
In 2011 Owen Arthur, the Leader of the Opposition announced that the BLP would not support , the ruling party's goals to amend Barbadian law to allow for the appointment of Marston Gibson as the next Chief Justice of Barbados. Questions surround the fact that Mr. Gibson has not maintained the requisite 15 years of practice as an attorney-at-law in Barbados. The governing DLP maintains that it plans to proceed as planned by amending that stipulation from the Barbados Supreme Court Judicature Act.
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1. The issue in these appeals is the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty in Barbados. The relevant provisions of the constitution are sections 1, 15(1) and 26. Section 1 says that the constitution shall be the supreme law of Barbados and that any other law shall “to the extent of the inconsistency, be void”. Section 15(1) says that no person shall be subject to “an inhuman or degrading punishment”. But section 26 says that no existing law “shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of any provision of sections 12 to 23”. The law decreeing the mandatory death penalty was an existing law at the time when the constitution came into force and therefore, whether or not it is “an inhuman or degrading punishment”, it cannot be held inconsistent with section 15(1). It follows that despite section 1, it remains valid.
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An unusual panel of nine Privy Council judges was set up to reconsider the issue of whether the death penalty was mandatory or not - normally just five sit. Over a fortnight, in a windowless room in the House of Lords, they considered cases from three islands at once: from Jamaica, Barbados, and that of Charles Matthews from Trinidad and Tobago. [ . . . ] The Law Lords declared that the death penalty for murder was, after all, mandatory in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
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A primary obstacle is the London-based Privy Council, the highest court of review for many former British colonies. It ruled that sentences must be commuted to life in prison if the condemned are not executed within five years -- a window some consider unreasonable because appeals are so slow.
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A JUDGEMENT of the Caribbean Court of Justice delivered on August 16 touches on a matter which has arisen in the local justice system on more than one occasion in the recent past. It is the question of the length of time it takes before an accused person in Barbados is brought to trial before a jury of his peers. Only a month ago it was reported that a murder accused had filed an action alleging that he has been on remand in prison for four years and that his constitutional rights were thereby breached. Earlier this year, similar reports surfaced in other cases.
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A DELINQUENT COURT SYSTEM. That’s how the Barbados Bar Association described the justice system in Barbados in a stinging letter sent to the Acting Chief Justice Sherman Moore earlier this week.
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MEMBERS OF THE Bar Association have been criticised for leaking a letter to the NATION.
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Also in all countries in the Caribbean there is a back log of cases. I will like to suggest that someone looks carefully at the back log of cases whether if it’s here in Barbados, in Trinidad, Jamaica, etc. We cannot deal with this back log by only human means. We have to do a sifting process and get the minor cases out of the system by some means other than the normal trial process,” he recommended.
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