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January 30, 2023

Criminal Justice Experts Consider Options for Advancing Criminal Justice Reforms in the Caribbean

On November 17, the Georgetown Americas Institute, Center for Latin American Studies, and SFS Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, co-hosted an event on criminal justice systems in the Caribbean.

Panelists included Nicola Suter, barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand, and Sirah Abraham, U.K barrister and criminal justice advisor to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. The conversation was moderated by Jake Patrick Collins (G’24), a Caribbean program advisor to the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau at the U.S. Department of State.

Panelists Nicola Suter (left) and Sirah Abraham (middle) with moderator Jake Patrick Collins (right)
Panelists Nicola Suter (left) and Sirah Abraham (middle) with moderator Jake Patrick Collins (right)

Outdated Justice System 

The Caribbean criminal justice system is based on the one used in the United Kingdom, according to Barristers Suter and Abraham. However, the Caribbean faces a unique and expansive set of challenges, including several outdated laws and regulations, improper treatment of witnesses, and prolonged trial wait times for detainees. Overall, “there is a lack of respect for human rights in the justice system,” said Abraham. 

The Drug Problem and its Significance for the United States 

Suter and Abraham have witnessed how drug trafficking has affected the Caribbean islands. Because there is a significant drug trafficking flow originating from South America, passing through the Caribbean, it is important to have a functional and efficient justice system so criminals are properly prosecuted. 

Suter commented that young men in particular are very vulnerable to drug traffickers, who often feed, clothe, and pay for their education. However, both panelists recognized that there has been a change for the better, and criminal organizations no longer act with absolute impunity as they did some years ago.

Challenges and Opportunities for the Justice System in the Caribbean

Barrister Suter recognized a range of challenges facing the legal systems in the Caribbean, including systemic corruption, agency coordination and competition, and inefficiency. She offered the example of Barbados, which has a 1,700-case backlog. 

Nevertheless, the barristers were somewhat optimistic, highlighting the significance of U.S. support, such as the purchasing of equipment for video interviews with witnesses, which has made the judicial process more efficient. 

“The best thing we can do is continue working at a lower level, keep getting successes, and slowly the tide will turn. We do get really lovely successes, such as investing in the criminal and justice system.” 

Lasting and Sustainable Impact

Finally, the experts mentioned that one of the most important parts of their work is to make sure that their impact can be prolonged by local actors. This comes by giving ownership to local partners on initiatives. The goal, described by the barristers, is to create a new and sustainable framework that continues to improve.