By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
STATE Minister of Legal Affairs Damian Gomez yesterday declared the government’s Swift Justice programme to be a success, pointing to the number of bail applications granted to accused charged with murder this year as proof.
Mr Gomez said that between January and March of this year, 112 people who were either charged with murder, attempted murder, manslaughter or abetment to commit these offences applied for bail.
He said only four of these defendants were granted bail.
“If ever there was evidence that Swift Justice is having an effect in the category of murder matters, that statistic ought to be a comfort to the public,” he said.
However, he also noted that 64 of these bail application cases are unfinished because they have been adjourned.
Fifteen of the applicants were denied bail, five have had their bail terms varied, four have had their applications dismissed outright and one has had his bail revoked.
Mr Gomez noted that in 2014, 251 of 1,109 bail applicants had their bail requests granted while 142 had their requests denied. Seventeen had the terms of their bail varied, 53 had their applications dismissed and 10 revoked in 2014.
This contrasts with the numbers for 2013, when 398 of a total 976 applicants had their requests granted. He added that that year 144 had their requests denied, 70 had their bail terms varied, five had their bail revoked and 359 had their hearings adjourned.
Speaking in the House of Assembly during his budget communication, Mr Gomez emphasised that while further progress is necessary to improve the administration of justice in the country, his party is responding well to the needs of Bahamians in this regard, especially in view of the problems it inherited from the former Ingraham administration.
“In 2012 when we were sworn in as ministers, we were met with the circumstances that were left in by our predecessors,” he said. “When we came into office, we came into office in the context of a department which had no database. If you asked anyone in the office how many trials did we participate in last year, you would be told ‘we don’t know and would have to check.’ If you wanted to know how many people were out on bail you couldn’t ask anyone; they’ll say ‘I don’t know.’ In this state of ignorance it is no wonder that there was no management of the situation in the Office of the Attorney General.
“...In 2014 at the budget communication we produced some of the data that we have been able to collect in the period (from) May 2012 and May 2013. We showed that the Supreme Court was limping along with just under 100 trials per year and there was a backlog that was in the tens of hundreds. It became obvious from the data we collected that it was impossible for the courts on its present course with its present resources to meet the objectives that the Bahamian people required. A rational decision was made.
“That decision was that we would establish what was the steady flow, that is to say barring some unusual event, what capacity did we need to build to ensure the rate of serious crime could be tried in the Supreme Court and then what did we need to do to get to that level? (Prime Minister Perry) Christie made available to the judiciary the funds to renovate the old Magistrate’s Court to create the new Swift Justice courts and three years later those courts are now in operation. That may seem like ‘gobbledygook’ to some people but it was obvious to this House and to this administration that we needed to have 10 judges daily operating, 10 daily courts in order for us to make a dent into the backlog of cases that we were faced with in the criminal justice system. Today we have 10 judges sitting.”
Mr Gomez also disclosed statistics that he says proves that under the Christie administration, the Office of the Attorney General has been increasingly able to schedule more cases before the Supreme Court.