PM Gonsalves remains unapologetic in the face of criticisms from Bar Associations
PRIME MINISTER Dr Ralph Gonsalves
May 5, 2023

PM Gonsalves remains unapologetic in the face of criticisms from Bar Associations

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves remains unapologetic after being condemned by the Organisation of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Association (OCCBA), and The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Bar Association for harshly criticizing “judges for granting bail for murder”, and effectively accusing judicial officers of “favouritism to certain lawyers.”

On Monday, April 17 and Tuesday, April 18, Gonsalves and Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, attended a two-day Regional Crime Symposium in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago which was conducted under the theme ‘Violence as a Public Health Issue – The Crime Challenge’.

At the symposium, Gonsalves said “Sometimes you get the impression that some magistrates -depending on who is the lawyer- their client seems to get better treatment…”.

“… How could you go and give somebody who is charged with murder bail? Let’s get serious!… where do these judges live? On Mars?…” he questioned.

Mottley, who shared similar sentiments said “… But when I look at the stats not only in The Bahamas and Barbados, but all through the region, the people who are causing the greatest problems are charged with two, three and four murders. Something is fundamentally wrong…”.

However, these statements were not well received by the Organisation of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Association (OCCBA) and The OECS Bar Association which have unanimously reprimanded Gonsalves and Mottley for their comments saying these were “wholly unfair, unfounded, uncalled for and misplaced.”

The OECS Bar said “Instead of focusing on the real issues impacting crime such as the lack of investment in youth, the family, education, the judicial system, the police, and the crown prosecution service, some leaders preferred playing the blame game – blaming everybody else but the politicians currently in office,” adding that it is especially disturbing that the offending statements came from two very admired former legal practitioners, one of whom was a formidable defence lawyer”.

Despite the criticisms and condemnation Gonsalves remained unmoved.

He said that nothing he said at the symposium can be contested because all that he said is true.

“I see a statement by the OECS Bar Association say that the statements made by me and Mia Mottley at the symposium constitute an attack on the independence of the judiciary. I don’t know how intelligent people can sit down and listen to what Mia said and what I said, to say that it constituted an attack on the independence of the judiciary. What Mia spoke about, giving bail for murder, I spoke about that too, where some judges giving bail for murder and in circumstances where right thinking people are saying that ‘well, how is this happening?”

“Of course we have a lot here which restricts giving bail for murder after the Preliminary Investigations (PI) has been held…”.

Gonsalves added that in several jurisdictions across the region, he has been noticing a trend where a number of judges are giving bail for murder in circumstances where one may question what is happening.

“…Then, it is a fact that a number of judges across the region, we weren’t just talking about St. Vincent and the Grenadines, or the OECS- across the region- that there are some judges which allow some lawyers to want to take control of the court and a whole set of adjournments.”

Continuing, he said that sometimes the lawyers have too many cases, or sometimes it’s a matter where the lawyer is paid part of the money and the client does not have the rest to pay him/her as yet so some reason is put forward to get an adjournment.

“…Across the region, because I hear the complaints from ordinary people, that some magistrates, that they’re in collusion with lawyers, but some people say that some lawyers get away with certain things in front of some magistrates what they shouldn’t get away with,” he said, reiterating that all the claims that he and Prime Minister Mottley made were factual.

“Then the OECS Bar Association went off on some red herring about the independence of the judiciary. Nobody is attacking the independence of the judiciary. In fact both Mia and myself, and I very much so, reaffirmed our commitment to the independence of the judiciary.

“Then they also went on red herring to talk about the presumption of innocence. I especially said that no one is asking for any solution outside of the constitution and the law…”.

Prime Minister Gonsalves said that he and colleague Prime Minister Mottley defended all the constitutionally laid out procedural requisites.

He also noted that the work of the judges is not a cloistered virtue and so persons are permitted to make reasonable criticism and the judiciary is not so fragile that it cannot withstand reasonable criticism.