Lawyer Jomo Thomas. (IWN file Photo)

A defence counsel has called for the appointment of another judge to handle criminal cases in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Jomo Thomas made the call at the closing of the assizes on Friday, while speaking on behalf of the defence bar, saying that persons are spending too long awaiting trial.

He noted that at the launch of the National Prosecutions Serviceon July 24, none of the speakers addressed the issue of the backlog in the criminal justice system.

To illustrate his point, Thomas said he had a client, Donrick Richards, who spent five years and six months on remand before pleading guilty to manslaughter last December.

Thomas said his client was sentenced to nine years in prison.

He said that if there had been another judge in St. Vincent, his client might have been sentenced very soon after his crime.

He said that while Richards might have still been sentenced to nine years in jail, in prison years, that translates to six calendar years.

Therefore, his client would have been scheduled for release this September, Thomas said.

The lawyer, however, noted that having spent five and a half years on remand, Richards has to serve an additional two years in prison, as time spent on remand is counted in calendar years, rather than prison years.

Thomas noted that some persons might ask why his client didn’t plead guilty sooner.

He, however, said that the more important question is why doesn’t the state provide more resources.

Thomas further noted that High Court judge, Justice Brian Cottle, who presided over the assizes, had spoken also, on Friday, about the conditions at the prisons being “far from ideal”.

The lawyer noted that 53 of the nation’s 446 prisoners were on remand, awaiting trial, and expressed concern about the way the system deals with remand prisoners.

Thomas quoted Justice Don Mitchell, who, in a published paper, noted that one of the ancient powers of a judge at the criminal assizes has always been to clear the prison of persons who are illegally held there.

Mitchell said that as a part of the assizes, the Superintendent of Prisons makes a prison return to the judge. Reporting on how many inmates are in custody.

Justice Mitchell said: “Normally, the judge just listens to the return and nods his head. It is now time to bring the process to something of its original purpose.”

Thomas commented that many persons are held on remand for long periods before being freed at a trial.

He said he can’t wait for the day when someone brings a false imprisonment case against the state when the case against them collapses.

In response to Thomas’ comment, Justice Brian Cottle said that the court is alive to the state of the list and has been speaking with the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) about this.
The judge said it is all good and well to make comments in a vacuum but he has from the DPP a list of all matters that are awaiting trial.

Justice Cottle said he is going through that list to remove matters that would not be on it.

He said that when that exercise is complete, he will report to Chief Justice Dame Janice Pereira and she would bear this in mind in deciding whether to appoint a second judge.

Justice Cottle said that in making that decision, consideration would also have to be given to space for accommodating a second court.

Thomas also told the court that too often, persons who have clearly been brutalised by the police are brought before the court and the magistrate does not bat an eye.

He said the safest place for anyone to be should be before a court of law.

“There must be a happy balance between fighting crime and protecting human rights,” he said.

The lawyer said he has heard magistrates shout at accused persons.

4 replies on “Lawyer calls for another judge to tackle backlog”

  1. I am pleased that Jomo Thomas has exposed this. What I have noticed is a shocking difference between how problems in SVG (and probably most of the Caribbean) are handled compared to problem solving in what we call developed countries, in particular Germany. In those countries, almost always, whenever there is a problem concerning jurisdiction of government, after it is recognized they get to work and fix it. I have noticed that in SVG, they allow the problem to continue. This is especially surprising because most of the problems can be fixed much easier than very large countries such as Germany. I mention Germany because I lived there about 20 years. They have not yet fixed the terrible migrant problem which will only happen when those responsible are voted out. We will possibly only solve our economic problem the same way in SVG, unless we are able to change the destructive heavily indoctrinated philosophy of our current leadership.
    Certainly we will not solve the big problems in SVG by doing nothing. After seeing a problem, an investigation on if action is needed must be conducted, if so, than what? It is also crucial that opposition voices need to be heard, which is not done in SVG due to arrogance. Opposition voices are vital because otherwise the room is just filled with “yes men” that base decisions on what to say in order to please “massa” and a proper decision is not reached, instead decisions destructive to the country but beneficial to only a political party, (which is not the country). That seems to happen very much in SVG

  2. The problem is there are far too many prisoners are in jail for capital crimes and should have been hanged. This would have released the pressure on the government and society in general in having to maintain them. Yes bleading heart liberals I welcome your ridicule.

  3. Whenever we take to looking into our enduring problems, we should never forget, that we sadly now live in a country ruled over by a Family dictatorship and that Jomo himself, is very much a distinctive part of the ideological problem too.

    Just contrast us with Cuba, Nicaragua, the Former USSR, todays Venezuela, the EU and the USA and you would no doubt see how and where we need the changes!

    Even contrasting these two stories with the above say a lot about us?
    a)
    https://www.iwnsvg.com/2019/08/07/lawyer-highlights-appalling-conditions-at-high-court-building/

    b)
    https://www.iwnsvg.com/2019/08/07/svg-to-open-embassy-in-taiwan-today-opposition-maintains-pro-china-stance/

    And remember JOSE, the dictatorship is not its own master so as to be able to do as you would suggest, its poor economic management of the economy, causes it to be entirely exposed by Grant Aid and foreign directives.

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