Barbados: Mandatory video recording of confessions expected to reduce court trials

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Barbados: Mandatory video recording of confessions expected to reduce court trials
Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson (right) comparing notes with visiting Australian law professor Stephen Odgers during this morning’s opening of an Evidence Act seminar at the Radisson Aquatica Resort.
Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson (right) comparing notes with visiting Australian law professor Stephen Odgers during this morning’s opening of an Evidence Act seminar at the Radisson Aquatica Resort.

(BARBADOS TODAY) – The implementation of a mandatory legal requirement for police to videotape the confessions of suspects could lead to a reduction in the number of cases going to trial, according to Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson.

The country’s Evidence Act makes provisions for video recordings of confessions, and while Sir Marston seemed somewhat uncertain whether it had been proclaimed, prominent attorney Andrew Pilgrim, QC, said it had taken effect last December.

In any event, Sir Marston argued this morning now that confessions must be caught on tape many of those who confess would likely plead guilty once the case gets to court, hence avoiding sometimes lengthy trials.

“The one thing that jumped out at me was that . . . it has to do with video recording confession statements. It has enormous implications because, what it means is that . . . a lot of [people] whose confessions have been video recorded are more likely to plead guilty and save us having to go to trial,” he said on the sidelines of an Evidence Act seminar conducted by senior Australian legal counsel and law professor Stephen Odgers at the Radisson Aquatica Resort, Aquatic Gap, St Michael.

Sir Marston was highlighting aspects of Odgers’ presentation that compared the two countries’ evidence legislation.

“I knew it was being discussed in Parliament, I didn’t realize it had actually been proclaimed. So I now have to go and look at it to make sure it’s [been] proclaimed and it’s part of our law. It would be very, very welcomed,” he said.

However, Pilgrim told reporters during a break at the seminar that the law went into force last December and police were already video recording statements from accused persons, a practice he suggested many people here seemed unaware of.

“It’s been done since December for sure. I wouldn’t call the names [of the parties] because those are cases that are pending. Police . . . at least in most cases are aware of the change,” the leading criminal lawyer said, adding that the local Evidence Act has, since 1994, contained a provision for the mandatory video recording of all confessions.

Pilgrim attributed the long delay in implementing the provision to a culture of accepting that confession evidence was adequate to secure a conviction, particularly where police have claimed the confessions were actually made by the accused.

“Every single case on which the Crown is seeking to rely on confession evidence, there shall be a recording of that confession on video. So the days of moving through without confession evidence being electronically recorded are over. I don’t think that people realize that on either side of the divide. But that is the effect of the law as of December 11 last year,” he said.

Pilgrim said there were video recording facilities at police stations in Holetown, District E, District A, Station Hill and Oistins, Christ Church and all that was needed was “a shift in the culture to do the right thing”.

“Now it’s the law . . . if they [police] don’t do it people would be acquitted unless there is other evidence outside of the confession,” he warned.

The Queen’s Counsel also told reporters that Odgers’ presentation was “very” helpful to criminal lawyers, especially since Barbados now bases several of its laws, including its Evidence Act, on the Australian system.

The two-day seminar is designed to provide guidance on recent developments in Australian law on which the Evidence Act of Barbados is based.

It is expected to assist in the streamlining of the island’s trial process as well.

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