Judicial Purgatory

By David Myers, B.A., M.C.A. in Criminology

Persons on remand are held in custody by the state while they await their day in court.  The authorities – the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in the case of Saint Lucia – have formally charged these individuals but they have not been convicted under the law of the accusations lodged against them.  However, in Saint Lucia, there is no discernible difference between the remand population and sentenced offenders.  If you take into consideration the size of the remand population at the Bordelais Correctional Facility, and the length of time these individuals spend in custody, it appears they are treated as sentenced offenders.  This undermines the principles enshrined in the Constitution of Saint Lucia, particularly, Chapter 1 Section 8(2a), which states, “every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until he or she is proved or has pleaded guilty.”  Treating the remand population as sentenced offenders has implications for Saint Lucia’s corrective intervention strategies and its judicial system.  I will highlight the current problems surrounding the judicial system’s handling of the remand population in addition to offering solutions to these problems that do not compromise the purposes of the correctional and judicial systems while ensuring the needs of all stakeholders in the criminal justice system are addressed.

For a variety of reasons, it is problematic to detain individuals charged with a crime in a correctional institution for extremely lengthy periods prior to their trial.  In the first case, as noted above, these individuals have not been formally convicted under the law.  It is very important to highlight this fact as some may be inclined to interpret the charge as a criminal conviction.  While the court of public opinion requires very little evidence to determine innocence or guilt, Saint Lucia’s judicial proceedings should not operate in that fashion.  Our judicial system allows for due process, which is captured in Chapter 1 Section 8(1) of the Constitution, “if any person is charged with a criminal offence, then, unless the charge is withdrawn, the case shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.”  Under the Constitution, remanded individuals are innocent and have the right to challenge the charges lodged against them.  Thus, persons on remand for extended periods are in limbo or judicial purgatory while they await their trial.  The question must therefore be asked as to if persons on remand have not been proven guilty of committing a criminal act, why are they held at Bordelais, which is designed to correct criminal behaviour?

The posing of this question is not to be interpreted as opposition to detaining individuals charged with a crime, particularly when the crime is very serious in nature.  There are valid reasons for restricting an individual’s freedom until their trial date.  For example, remand protects crime survivors from further victimization and the public from potential harm; it also ensures public order in that it prevents the occurrence of vigilante justice and further guarantees that the accused will not escape prosecution.  However, housing individuals on remand in correctional facilities places an unnecessary burden on correctional staff whose main priority is the rehabilitation and reintegration of sentenced offenders.  This primary objective is compromised by adding a population of people who have not been proven guilty of criminal wrongdoing.  Correctional officials at Bordelais must now extend the facility’s limited resources and services to a population it should have no jurisdiction over.

Of particular concern is the size of Saint Lucia’s remand population.  In 2012, the annual U.S. State Department Human Rights Report recorded Saint Lucia’s remand population at 232.  These persons were either awaiting trial or other judicial disposition such as probation or bail.  The reports from 2002 to 2012, which are available on the department’s website (http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/) indicate that since 2003, the human rights observers from the State Department have consistently found issues with the frequent use of remand.  The observers often cite that Saints Lucia’s high remand population contributes to overcrowding at Bordelais and creates lengthy delays in conducting criminal trials.  The 2012 report highlights that of 232 placed on remand, 187 individuals were specifically awaiting trial for either violent or non-violent offences.  That figure represents a 50% increase from the 124 in 2011.  This contributed to Bordelais’ overcrowding, which experienced a 2% increase in the overall prison population from 554 in 2011 to 568 in 2012.  This is consistent with the trend in the increasing population over the life of Bordelais from 460 in 2003 to 568 in 2012 – an increase of some 23%.  Those awaiting trial have consistently accounted for about 30% of the entire prison population since 2003.  The facility holds a maximum of 500 persons and its ability to operate at an optimum level is likely impeded due to the extra bodies.

Human rights observers in 2012 reported persons awaiting trial for serious offences spent an estimated six months to five years on remand.  Absent from the 2012 report were estimated waiting periods for petty or non-violent crimes.  The 2005 report is the most recent document that highlights this information and it noted that those charged with
petty offences spent 6 to 12 months on remand. A second question that must be asked is if our judicial officials have been aware of these issues for 10 years, then why are they compounding these problems by continuing to place individuals on remand and not conducting trials more frequently?  Judicial proceedings are currently moving at a snail’s pace due to the backlog of cases and if the remand population remains high, the system may come to a complete halt. (more on the subject next week)

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