ALRIGHT Conference – Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

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My opening remarks for the ALRIGHT Conference in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – hosted by my good friend Colin Williams – the Director of Public Prosecutions:

Hello to you all at the ALRIGHT Conference!

I am more than 12,500 kilometres away and I am sorry that I cannot be with you – but my work now takes me to far flung destinations and today I am in Ethiopia!

I was very grateful to Colin , the brainchild of ALRIGHT – who has invited me to say a few words to support this most worthy of initiatives.

I left the Eastern Caribbean in 2014 – but really it has never left me. My four years as the Criminal Justice Advisor, will always leave a permanent presence!

I made true friends and thrived working with you to bring about important developments in your criminal justice systems.

When I arrived in the Eastern Caribbean in 2010, it was with a blank canvas – with no expectations.

I quickly realised that relationships were key. It is only through cooperation and shared values that any meaningful change can be delivered. Further, to be sustainable it must have local ownership.

Whilst I had many ideas, I was able to have wise Counsel to ensure the ideas were realistic!

This is what I believe is the essence of delivering reform – understanding the local context and having local buy-in. Without this, the prospect of any impact is nigh high impossible.

And I say this with the vision that the criminal justice system, in which ever jurisdiction you work, needs to adapt and be reactive to contemporary issues.

Take the internet – which is young at only 28 years – Tim Berners-Lee could never have envisaged the rapid growth of his world wide web. There are now 7.3 billion users of the internet globally – with 18.5million in the Eastern Caribbean. Christianity took nearly 19 centuries to attract 600 million followers. By contrast, WhatsApp now has 700 million users after starting at zero six years ago.

We now live in an age where everything has to be instantaneous and we expect immediate results. The internet of things has inevitably changed our view and way of life. Everything must be quick, immediate, and social. We Tweet, we Instagram, we Facebook, we Snap!

What does this mean for criminal justice – well – in my view – it creates more positives than negatives.

There is an opportunity to be more inclusive and inform people about the work of prosecutors and investigators – the more transparent and informed citizens are about the work of those in the criminal justice system, the more they are likely to engage. Further, can we use this new fast paced view of life to challenge the issue of delays.

A criminal justice system that takes excessive time to deliver justice is of course open to criticism. I hasten to add that this is not just a problem in the Caribbean – it is an issue many jurisdictions have sought to address – with minimal success. Of course, many solutions need money and criminal justice is not always a budget priority.

The attributes of Lady Justice are a blindfold, a balance, and a sword – should we now consider repositioning the balance? And by this I don’t mean putting the defence or prosecution at a disadvantage – but looking at how we can use our new fast-paced way of life to attempt to reduce delays – as we now do in our everyday lives through rapid communication – to deliver a different kind of justice.

Has the internet and advancement in technology provided other opportunities for change. Should we be looking at a wholesale change to the way we investigate and prosecute crime. Or should we be looking at more traditional approaches, that do not dilute the transparency of administering justice.

One proposed solution is eliminating preliminary inquiries (PIs) – I indeed advocated such an approach when in the EC. I know that Barbados have a Bill proceeding through Parliament and of course St Lucia has Criminal Procedure Rules that allow for a sufficiency hearing and then trial. Eliminating preliminary hearings costs nothing, and sounds good to the public because it removes a step available to an accused to challenge the case against him or her.

We must remember that PIs are only available when proceeding on indictment – I am unsure about the percentage of cases that proceed on indictment – but generally a far greater percentage will be summarily prosecuted. Therefore, a view is that abandoning PIs will not impact the backlog in the courts.

Both defence and prosecutors could argue that PIs focus trial issues, so may save time at trial

My view is that all parties in the criminal justice system need to come together to determine sensible ways forward. Practitioners knowing their system, its weaknesses and strengths, can draw upon their experiences and empirical evidence to determine effective reform. This means judges, prosecutors, defence attorneys, policy makers, victims’ rights advocates, prison officers, police, customs and FIUs to come together to seek long-term, rational solutions.

I hope this conference is a seed that leads to a platform that will openly discuss transformative changes. Regular meetings will be an essential follow-up, where key stakeholders take responsibility and ensure they commit to delivering reform.

From my perspective, the following are highly relevant to be discussed:

  1. Plea bargaining – should prosecutors have the power to engage with the defence and propose appropriate pleas whilst agreeing concessions at an early stage?
  2. Alternative sentencing options – such as restorative justice within the community
  3. Use of technology to have virtual courts
  4. Use of Judge only trials and/or fast track trials
  5. Eastern Caribbean wide arrest warrant to reduce delays in extradition

I hope this Conference leads to tangible results with realistic solutions that can be proposed as viable options to policy makers.

I urge lively and frank conversations – with a belief that anything is possible!

No idea is a bad idea and indeed the more we discuss the more we can bring about lasting reform together! Of course, change will not happen overnight – but agreeing to collaborate to deliver change can be a positive outcome of this conference – I wish you the very best and look forward to hearing about the success of ALRIGHT!

 

 

 

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