THE Bar Association president has recommended that the courts should ”seriously consider” holding Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade in contempt of court for stating the obvious — that as fast as police arrest a hardened criminal and deliver him to the court, he is back on the streets and the chase starts all over again — all thanks to what is now being called the “court’s revolving door”. This is an observation that over the years we have often made in this column. It was because of this very problem that under the FNM government the discretion was taken from the magistrates to grant bail for certain serious offences. Of course, the Supreme Court was always available for a second opinion.
The Commissioner can’t be hauled before the courts for telling the truth. If the police track down an offender, usually with a bracelet around his ankle with a criminal record as his only credentials, he no sooner goes through the preliminary court system, than he is granted bail, and the police chase starts all over again. The police are tired. The Commissioner has every right to complain on behalf of his men, and an exasperated community who want these offenders off the streets.
The overworked police force is demoralised, the community is angry because their homes are not safe, while the criminals roam the streets as they await their day in court. If The Tribune were to follow some of these cases, the public would be shocked to know how many “in-betweeners” — that is between bail and a court trial — are reoffending. It would be interesting to know how many, already on a charge of murder, commit another murder or criminal assault as they await trial. Unable to get a job because of the life they have chosen, they have to continue their criminal activities to keep body and soul together. If they were smart, they would welcome bail and the safety of the prison gate — because out on the street there is an enemy waiting to exact justice without benefit of the courts.
Already this week, we have a family being decimated because crude justice is being exacted on the streets. While they await trial with their ankle bracelets, they either kill each other or silence a witness and the evidence. No, we don’t have capital punishment, but we certainly have it on the streets. Accused men with criminal rap sheets, who should be in jail awaiting trial, are out in the community exacting their own form of justice. They are certainly clearing the court calendar without the aid of judge and jury – and daily the country’s murder count rises.
Surely the Bar Association president would not also recommend that our Attorney General be cited for contempt for virtually following the same line of argument as the Police Commissioner? On Saturday, the Commissioner had expressed concern about bail, highlighting a case where bail was granted last week to a “prolific offender” nearly a month after another judge had rejected his bail request.
Said Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson: “Although things are moving in the right direction, we feel that judges are not as determined as we would have hoped to prevent the revolving door on bail. For example, last week an accused person was admitted to bail even though another judge in November denied that person’s bail application. We remain hopeful that the judiciary will do everything to prevent what appears to be judge shopping.”
She went on to point out that the person in question was previously before the court for “many matters,” including a charge of abetment to murder.
“The accused person was released on bail with that offence with an ankle bracelet and committed further offences, including ones involving firearms and ammunition,” she said. “He subsequently applied for bail and that bail was refused by a judge in November who noted that the person was likely to commit another offence. In December, less than a month later, the person was back before another judge, on the very same argument and was released, the facts being the same. He was someone who committed offences while (wearing an) ankle bracelet.”
Added Mrs Maynard-Gibson: “People want to feel the state is doing everything, for there to be efficiency in the system. The police’s frustration is that as much hard work as they do in apprehending these people, they still get out.”
The 18-year-old, who was killed this weekend, had just attended the funeral of an older brother, who had been killed two weeks earlier. The 18-year-old was wearing an ankle bracelet. He had been charged, according to police, “for a serious indictable offence.” The court had released him on bail. Like his brother before him, he too was dead.
Speaking to reporters after the shooting, ACP Dean said: “This is the challenge police are faced with. We do our part every day to get these people before the courts. We are doing it. We have to find a way as a country, all the systems of justice have to work together to make sure we keep these persons locked behind bars because as long as they are on the streets they are not going to work, they are going to continue with the life of crime and will continue to use the firearms, they will continue to become a menace to society.
“We need now the entire country, everybody, we are at a crossroads right now and if the issue of people being released on bail in a short period of time, that is something we have to look at. We know what the problem is in this country and we have to solve it.”
We all know what the problem is. Members of the judiciary live in this country, they should also understand the depth of the problem. These serious offenders — even if a special holding station has to be built for them— have to be kept off the streets until they have their day in court. Government has promised more courts. But as yet they have not started to function.
It is now up to the courts to get their house in order, rather than “seriously” considering taking our hard working Commissioner to court for commenting on why – despite his best efforts — he cannot satisfy the public by keeping criminals off the streets.
According to the Bar Association president, the courts should “seriously consider” holding Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade in contempt of court for making comments that the president believes impugns the integrity of the judiciary.
It reminds us of a story told us by a father who was counselling his son. The son complained to his father that certain persons were not showing him the respect that he thought his position deserved. After much discussion as to what the son was doing wrong, the father said: “I cannot order anyone to respect you. It is only you, by your behaviour, who will have to earn that respect.”
The counsel of this wise father is the thought that we leave with the judiciary.
If the Bar president wants to hold the Commissioner in contempt, then he will also have to hold The Tribune editor and the whole community on the same charge.