IT’S SHORTLY after 8pm as we start to write this column — the second day of the New Year – and The Tribune has just been alerted to another murder. A reporter has dashed from the newsroom for Taylor Street off East Street. That is all that we know at present, but before the night is out and this column has been completed for this morning’s publication the details of the latest murder for two-day-old 2014 will be on today’s front page.
Wednesday – New Year’s day – our writing was again interrupted. This time it was 7:36 pm. The police flash said:
“Good evening colleagues:
“Police just received a report that a man was shot dead on Buttonwood Gardens, Pinewood Gardens.”
Later a follow up report stated:
“According to reports, shortly after 7:00pm, the deceased along with another man was sitting down in front of an apartment complex on Buttonwood Avenue, Pinewood Gardens, when the occupants of a vehicle pulled up and fired several shots at them before speeding off. The deceased received multiple gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene. The other man was transported to hospital where he is detained in stable condition for a gunshot to the leg.”
Earlier, the first murder to usher in 2014 was committed around 2am. Again a man sitting on his car in Hospital Lane was the target of another man who walked up to him, aimed his shotgun, fired several times, then fled on foot. The victim was taken to hospital, but died of his injuries.
And so, the New Year 2014 opened and closed its first day with two murders. In 36 hours before the end of the final murder on New Year’s evening, four men were dead and three others were fighting for their lives in hospital. This new death this evening (January 2) brings the death toll to five with another crippled by a leg wound.
Prime Minister Christie, now alert to the situation has finally arrived at the starting post — where he should have been in May 2012 – to announce that there would be further tightening of the law to keep these criminals behind bars.
From the day he took office, Police Commissioner Greenslade has complained that the police have been fighting a losing battle – as soon as they catch a violent criminal, the courts let them out on bail to continue to challenge society. How many murderers or murdered have been wearing an ankle bracelet? How many are reported to be “well known to the police”? Those few words out of the mouth of a policeman, convey much to a seasoned reporter. It means that the police have captured a hardened criminal with a lengthy rap sheet. How discouraging it must be to these men of the law, to capture these men, take them to court, and see them walk out of the door — free on bail. And so the police-criminal chase behind the same man starts all over again. Often during this period of freedom a second, if not a third murder is committed.
When the Ingraham government toughened the law to make it impossible for judges to grant bail to someone accused of murder or other violent crimes, one could almost imagine the relief of the magistrate when he informed the accused that he no longer had the discretion to grant him bail. The Ingraham government was derided by the Christie-led Opposition about denying these judges the right to use their discretion in sentencing.
In October 2011, lawyer Damien Gomez, although admitting that crime was a serious problem, said the Ingraham government should not sacrifice the fairness of the legal system in response. However, Prime Minister Ingraham tabled the amendments to Criminal Procedure Code that year. One of the proposed changes extended the time that police could hold a suspect for questioning from 48 to 72 hours.
Mr Gomez condemned this move. Not only, said he, did it violate the Constitution, but it also gave corrupt officials more time to “coerce” confessions out of suspects. He was highly critical of the amendments.
Our present National Security Minister, Bernard Nottage, when he took over his post in 2012 even entertained the complaints of the criminal element to reconsider the tough laws. The crook was laughing.
Now, almost two years later, the Christie government has at last realised that if his government does not start showing some tough love, the criminal will destroy this country. By further curbing the judges from granting bail, Mr Christie has disposed of the need of lawyers to plead for bail in some of these cases – probably to the great relief of the legal fraternity, who can now blame the system. His criminal client can no longer blame him for not springing the prison gates for him to roam around and cause mischief until trial date.
However, with all these cases piling up and the cry for “swift justice”, the government faces another problem — the present chaos in the courts.
The court staff has been removed from its central location in the courts in Bank Lane all the way out to JFK Drive. Daily, the prosecutors and staff have to fight traffic to stand before a judge and jury in the courts in Bank Lane. No more tripping downstairs with law books in tow, to push open the court door and walk in. A police driven van now has to get them uptown to the court on time as the judge awaits their arrival.
It is said the court staff, including the prosecutors, were moved out of the central square to make room for five more courts. Already the prosecutors are hard pressed to keep up with the volume of work in the present five.
In June last year, Damien Gomez, no longer in Opposition, but now Minister of State for Legal Affairs and looking at crime through a different prism, told the House of Assembly that with the five criminal courts now in operation from 200 to 250 cases should be handled every year.
However, in a 12-month period, only 89 criminal cases were dealt with by the Supreme Court that year. Unless, the courts worked more efficiently, he said, a dent could not be made in the backlog of criminal cases.
Obviously, with crime so seriously out of control he is no longer talking constitutional rights and putting constitutional blocks in the way of tackling crime.
The court is now going to have to start hiring more prosecutors to man the five new courts. Already, they have lost their senior prosecutor, Ms Gillian Williams, who has returned to her native Trinidad after about 14 or 15 years of excellent work in the Bahamas. Her contract was not renewed. We understand that she was a first class prosecutor, who is “a great loss to the Bahamas, but will be a great asset to Trinidad”.
But, whatever this government does, it will have to act quickly to get the court system up and running efficiently if it wants to get the criminal off the streets and crime under control.