By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Prime Minister’s announcement that if necessary, the government will pass laws to bind the hands of judges and prevent them from granting bail to persons accused of serious crimes is not sitting well with some attorneys.
Speaking to The Tribune after Mr Christie named this as one several measures to tackle escalating crime, a group of attorneys expressed the view that the courts should not be subject to improper influence from the other branches of government, or from private interests.
Dr Glendon Rolle said: “Judicial independence is vital and important to a growing country. The government’s attempt to find a quick Band Aide solution to crime seems to be the order of the day when it comes to governance.
“The audacious suggestion to tie the hands of judges granting bail lacks wisdom primarily because we do have constitutional rights as Bahamians and any attempts to derail those rights would lead to further problems.
“One must note that the principle of judicial independence is one of the core values of the justice. We need to stop acting on impulses and step back, review a plan forward that would benefit us as a people moving forward.
“An attempt for government to interfere with our competent judges would result in injustice for our nation.”
One week ago in a press conference following a cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Christie told reporters that “the government is fully prepared to legislatively intervene to impose additional restrictions on the ability of judges to grant bail in offences involving crimes of violence and the use of firearms.”
Attorneys like Stanley Rolle, Christina Galanos and Krysta Mason-Smith share Dr Rolle’s views regarding the statement made by the nation’s chief.
Mr Rolle said if the government were to carry out said legislative change, “the Court of Appeal will rule it unconstitutional based on the separation of powers and state.”
“Any law inconsistent with the constitution is void to the extent of the inconsistent point,” he added.
Ms Galanos agreed, and further asked the government, “What happens to the presumption of innocent until proven guilty? I guess they will amend that too.”
Mrs Mason-Smith said the move would “completely undermine the presumption of innocence.”
“Often lay persons are already of the view that once arrested for anything, a man is guilty – that is, until it is some family member or close to them.
“And for the record, bail is not an automatic right in any event because an accused man, and I put emphasis on accused, must satisfy certain criteria to be admitted to bail.”
In November 2011, parliament passed legislation removing the jurisdiction of Magistrates to consider bail for capital offences such as murder, attempted murder, rape, armed and attempted armed robbery, possession of dangerous drugs, among others.
While awaiting formal arraignment in Supreme Court, an accused can exercise the legal right to apply for bail to this court.
If the court wishes to consider the application, a date is set to hear arguments from the Crown and defence.
Bail may be approved or rejected depending on, but not limited to, the following considerations: nationality and ties to the country, antecedents or lack thereof, strength of the evidence, chance of re-offending if granted bail, witness intimidation/interference; and protection from possible retaliation by incarceration.
Noting the country’s concern about escalating crime, Dr Rolle also said it was important to acknowledge that “the issues we are now experiencing didn’t just surface”.
“They have been brewing in our nation for many years; the human infidelity towards each other has now materialised itself. Lies, deceit, malice, promises, and hatred seem to be the order of today which results in destruction” he said.