By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
GRAND Bahama Human Rights Association President Fred Smith yesterday challenged National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage to recant his “irresponsible and immature” comments regarding the judiciary and crime.
Mr Smith, QC, called on Dr Nottage to issue a public apology to the courts.
The attorney said he was shocked by Dr Nottage’s attempt to blame judges for the nation’s crime problems, a move he labelled as dangerous because the legal body could not defend itself against political posturing.
The outspoken attorney told The Tribune that the Bain and Grants Town MP had made an “about face” from his party’s position against mandatory minimum sentencing in 2012.
Mr Smith said: “It is outrageous of Dr Nottage to be blaming the judiciary and making the judges and the magistrates scapegoats for the challenges which the nation faces because of crime.”
“Dr Nottage’s comments speak to the ignorant in the country and it is the height of demagoguery,” he said. “It is irresponsible to be casting blame on the judiciary that is charged with the responsibility of protecting the individual and fundamental rights and freedoms in our Constitution.
“The judges, as they ought to, perform individual reviews of individual cases and determine whether or not someone should or should not get bail, similarly in sentencing.”
“It’s so easy just to blame to get political kudos,” he said. “I’m very disappointed in Dr Nottage and I urge him to recant and apologise to the courts publicly. That would show he is a real man.”
Dr Nottage has faced severe criticism from the legal community over his comments in the House of Assembly last Wednesday, when he accused judges of failing to impose stiffer penalties and not properly enforcing laws that are on the books.
The Bain and Grants Town MP said that some magistrates give lighter sentences to criminals because the accused is someone in society’s “good son”. He added that it was hard to believe that some judges live in the same country and still only give criminals “a slap on the wrist” when they appear before them.
On Thursday, Bar Association President Elsworth Johnson branded the national security minister a “coward” who blamed everyone but himself for crime.
Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson later defended the judiciary, issuing a statement that emphasised the government’s respect and appreciation for “hard working judges.”
The former Ingraham administration imposed mandatory minimum sentences in 2011; however, judicial officials said this was unconstitutional.
The Christie administration repealed the controversial mandatory minimum sentences with the introduction of the Abolition of Mandatory Minimum Sentences Bill, which was passed in the House of Assembly on September 18, 2014.
Yesterday, Mr Smith characterised Dr Nottage’s comments as an “easy pronouncement for a quick vote” that “scandalised” judges.
“Thank God the presumption of innocence and sentencing are left to the judiciary who look at individual issues carefully, as opposed to the Band-Aid solutions which the executive and Parliament tend to throw at these situations.
“Thank God that the judiciary struck down mandatory minimum sentences and protected the independence of the judiciary by preventing Parliament and the executive from being judge, jury, and executioner.
“If we left it to Dr Nottage and his kind, people would have no rights in the Bahamas and everyone would be in jail just because they are accused.”