Montserrat's Justice System: Can The New Barristers Make a Positive Impact?

Judges Gavel

Claude Gerald

Release Date

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The criminal justice system on Montserrat is ailing, rapidly deteriorating and for the foreseeable future, perhaps hopeless even by moderate standards of judgement.

The creation of this problem is not acknowledged generally. Neither is the solution materially on hand to ensure the theoretical certainty, which the rule of law, in its impurity, uses as the touchstone to decisions making. Frankly, no one seems to care of the perils lurking in this arm of our democracy, oblivious to the essential parameters that can be imperilled, given the embracing nature of the law's range.

The Director of Public Prosecutor's office, a recent creation empowered by the constitution is a cesspool of interpersonal fire fights, back stabbing and turf protection. Alleged tales emanating from that office is fodder for the gossip circuits, giving rise to reasonable speculation that the need for professionalism, required for efficiency and effectiveness, is in such a state that it could oxygen-starve the body.

The current mess is bed rocked in policy decisions of the past which failed to match job specifications fittingly. We have suffered in this and other sectors from the illusion that to be certified is to be qualified. Thus we load our offices with human investments of low asset value. We thus sow seeds of disharmony which rubbish designed policy objectives.

This is not necessarily a slight on the leadership of Kathy-Anne Pyke, the Director of Public Prosecution, in this important endeavour. She may be a well intentioned professional who may suffer natural hostility, being a woman in a tough job, in a new culture of tiny minds and generalized sloppiness in formal circles. The latter is a major bottle neck to organized growth and the legal sector is vulnerable more so to this seasoned trend of accepted inefficiency. Yet the DPP cannot afford to alienate or to be alienated in managing to its best the human resources at her disposal to legally defend and vigorously promote the state's interest.

By coincidence on Friday last, a historical calling to the bar of three aspirants was preceded by Justice Asptahan's uphold of a no case submission, acquitting a veteran police officer of more serious charges of assault. Both events captured the minds of locals given the social function of the law. What lessons could these new legal newcomers take from a prosecution that fails again to take the case even to the jury, whilst the defence gallops to another victory?

Strip aside the accepted platitudes designed for such a ceremony, the larger question centres on the nature of the legal culture that will confront these young women; the impact it will have on their careers and crucially the nature of their contribution to the process of change to platform the future. Their coming as a trio at this time is pivotal to the direction travelled in securing the fundamentals against intrusions of extra-judicial power and influence in the court, which intuitively may have been countenanced in a recent profiled case.

If they return as were, socialized by an unquestioning and placid society, with many friends and family to prosecute and to defend and take the path least resisted, thus failing to live and 'mistress' the law the enslavement instruct of Justice Tommy Astaphan at swearing in their training will add to nought. Rather if they become case centred, their obvious growth in five years, judged by bar presentations will open the floodgates to a new and improved jurisprudence on Montserrat. Not by any means a facile charge by the Judge as old habits die hard and mere exposures to the elements of law equip them only to begin to practice, Astaphan cautioned.

The trade off to this mandate in a cloistered society is mind-boggling and that is the most enduring challenge. How can they succeed on a path of impartiality without compromise and not suffer alienation of different kinds? Can they remain internally fortified in carrying out this acid test of maturity and introspection? Can they be a part of the world but not of it as required by members of the Bench, the ideal test of legal maturity? Could they stomach a pariah existence in the face of defending their 'mistress' that may not be accepted by many?

Practitioners must seek to distinguish themselves by their behaviour. Squabbles in the DPP's office send bickering vibrations and divided loyalty signals across the legal landscape that retards institutional growth and progress. Animosity and antagonism cycle out of control and young exponents are likely to be sucked into the melee, to take sides in this garrison politics that can create legal rascals.

How can we be sure that Officer Labourde's submission would have succeeded if the DPP's office was at full throttle? Assuming it is factual, why was Crown Prosecutor Sullivan not severely reprimanded by the court and employers, for allegedly announcing in court that he enjoys a close friendship with the then accused Labourde, thus adopting hands off approach, supposedly not even peering at the files? His presence with local knowledge would have been advantageous to the people, to share notes and be a reservoir to back up as the defence lessoned and tag-teamed. Rightfully it is his role. He would have shone and grown in prosecuting his friend who fully understands the rules of the legal game as a police prosecutor himself.

Prosecute him mercilessly and then plea in the style of the late Bazil Diaz, a former Attorney General of grace and honour and humour.

Selectivity in prosecutions is most reprehensible. It is an assault that crosses swords with the court itself. This ugly practice of selecting who must bear the brunt of one's enthusiasm to prosecute is personal, revengeful, corruptible, petty and contemptuous giving rise to the notion of a persecution displacing a prosecution.

It sublimely informs the jury process with all its social problems, nurturing jurors in the art of corrupt verdicts as they follow the pace set by legal minds in leadership, whether as Justice Ministers or other deviants in the system.

Every case deserves proper adjudication as the antagonists on either side guide the court with a calm zeal on the elements as perceived. If the ranking police officer's case was high profile how come the State selected not to treat it so with a high flying prosecution team? The DPP's office was hamstrung clearly and this must not be the norm.

Despite the theory of separation of powers, the executive arm must not roll over stupefied. It must execute changes to foster keen management of the Legal Department. It must be proactive hovering over and determining the game play of justice maintenance on our shores.

Friendship coupled with serious business remains mortal enemies.

Editor-in-Chief's Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not represent the views of this media house, its management or associate contributors. Claude Gerald is a social commentator on Montserrat. He can be reached at

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