By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
LEGAL Affairs Minister Allyson Maynard-Gibson yesterday committed to releasing statistics that would support an improved conviction rate over the “alarming” figures released by the Inter-American Development Bank.
Pointing out that the study focused on a four-year period ending in 2009, the Attorney General pinned the turnaround on the Christie-led administration’s “unrelenting thrust against crime” through Project Safe Bahamas and Swift Justice initiatives.
As the government works to align cooperative efforts of all stakeholders in the crime fight, Mrs Maynard-Gibson said the broken system could not be fixed overnight.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson said: “Last week we had five convictions: three for murder, one for armed robbery, and one for rape and associated offences in one week. When is the last time that happened in the Bahamas? Swift Justice is working.
“The IDB figure ended at 2009,” she said, “right now we have a better batting average than what that figure is, and this time next year Bahamians will be feeling the difference. We will be routinely bringing matters to trial within one year and those matters that are being brought to trial right now, the way they are being processed – not the ones in the backlog – the ones that are being processed now, persons are not being charged until the file is complete. So it is a new day. Resources are being brought to bear, Swift Justice is working, and all of the relevant stakeholders are collaborating closely.”
Mrs Maynard-Gibson added: “Through asset forfeiture and confiscation, and redeploying those resources into the crime fight, we are mobilizing all of our resources to send the clearest message that we will ensure that you are swiftly detected, swiftly prosecuted, and swiftly punished.”
The IDB report revealed that 305 accused murderers have been released on bail within the last five years.
Despite police stating that they solve the majority of killings that take place in the Bahamas, the study also revealed that during the period of 2005-2009, only one in every 20 murder suspects was convicted.
A 2011 study by Royal Bahamas Police Force researcher Sgt Chaswell Hanna stated that 73 per cent of murders from 2005 –2009 were “solved”.
However, the IDB report says that over the exact same period, only 5.1 per cent of these cases resulted in a conviction.
This means that of the 349 murders reported during this period, no one was held responsible for at least 330 of them.
The report does not say whether the low rate of conviction is to be blamed on faulty police investigations, or the long-standing failures of the judicial system.
Yesterday, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damien Gomez said that the alarming figures evidenced the inaction of the former government to address systemic issues affecting the administration of justice.
Referring to the country’s marked decline in values for the World Governance Indicator related to the Rule of Law, Mr Gomez said: “It’s very significant, we’ve had a free fall when you look at the World Bank report, we slipped from 88 to 68, so that’s a huge slippage. Until we got back in power it was unchecked and unresolved, we have immediately set about putting in place policies to introduce or re-implement Swift Justice and to make sure that the system works.
Mr Gomez added: “It’s not just frightening, this is really an alarming number. It’s a number that alarmed the public sufficiently in 2012 to change the government, you cannot tolerate a situation where seemingly government is impotent to deal with major criminal events in an appropriate manner. We are addressing it and we are hopeful and confident that within a short period of time we will resolve this issue, and this period of our history will be looked back upon as a form of barbarism that we will never return to.”
Mr Gomez said the IDB funding will allow the government to introduce a pilot digital technology system that will maximize the use of judicial time.
Faster trials would also cut down on bail releases, said Mr Gomez, adding that “if they’re going to be tried within 12 months then they will not be released on bail.”
The report was commissioned by the government as part of a pilot project for the relaunch of the Swift Justice Initiative (SJI), initially created by the first Christie Administration and continued in an altered version by the FNM until the 2012 election. The IDB requested a $250,000 fee for its assistance.
The objectives of the project are: to improve court reporting and transcript generation through the introduction of a digital recording system; to support the implementation of an Integrated Justice Information System with an efficient business model for calendaring court dates; and to contribute to the reduction of the backlog of pending cases at the Supreme Court level.