By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
CHILD rights advocates are celebrating a recent Court of Appeal ruling they say clarifies the way police officers and judges must deal with children that come into contact with the justice system.
In its ruling last week, the Court of Appeal affirmed the importance of giving paramount consideration to the welfare of children when addressing them in legal matters such as bail hearings.
The ruling indicated that children - including those charged with serious crimes - cannot be remanded to prison unless certain conditions are met.
These conditions include sworn testimony that a child was of so “unruly a character that he could not be safely committed to a juvenile correction centre” or “is so depraved a character that he was not fit to be so detained”.
Child rights advocates hope the ruling will halt the practice whereby juveniles accused of committing indictable offences are automatically remanded to the Department of Correctional Services and end situations where police officers or magistrates do not consider granting them bail, leaving that decision to the Supreme Court instead.
The ruling came down last Thursday and sprung from a case involving a juvenile who, charged with armed robbery and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, was remanded to the BDCS in November 2014.
Police allegedly shot the juvenile three times during his arrest.
During a hearing for his bail application, evidence was produced indicating that two of the three bullets remained in his body and he was refused an opportunity to see a prison doctor.
Supreme Court Justice Vera Watkins ultimately ruled that his continued detention was necessary to ensure his appearance at trial.
She said his rights under the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Child Protection Act were not infringed upon.
However, in a unanimous decision Thursday, the Court of Appeal set aside that decision and granted the juvenile bail.
Justice Stella Maureen Crane-Scott said when The Bahamas signed, ratified and incorporated the UN’s Child Rights Convention into its laws via the Child Protection Act, it demonstrated a commitment to the principles in the convention, including: “That all the rights guaranteed by the Convention must be available to all children without discrimination of any kind; that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children; that every child has the right to life, survival and development; and that the child’s views must be considered and taken into account in all matters affecting him or her.”
She said in the ruling: “In light of these principles and the facts in the present case, I take this opportunity to remind the relevant authorities of their respective duties and obligations under the Convention and the Child Protection Act and further urge that more attention be paid to the rights afforded Bahamian children therein.”
Attorneys Janet Bostwick-Dean and Tavarrie Smith represented the juvenile in the case.
Mr Smith told The Tribune yesterday: “Children as young as ten years old can be charged with a crime. They are taken to adult police stations where they are often questioned and held without legal representation. If a parent or guardian is unable to attend the station, then a social worker is called to advise the child. They are held for the same 48 to 72 hour periods as adults, have limited access to their parents, then are taken to an adult court if it’s an indictable offence and charged in open court for all to see. The issue of bail does not arise until the child, often on his own, approaches the Supreme Court for bail.
“This ruling has essentially said that entire process is flawed and infringes upon the rights of the child by refusing to consider the welfare of the child as your paramount consideration.
“Previously, where a police officer or a magistrate adopted the practice that they did not have the power to grant bail to a child charged with certain a indictable offence, we believe that this ruling now corrects that practice by establishing that there is in fact a special bail regime for children in The Bahamas and bail consideration must be given,” he said.
“It is very unfortunate that we had to take this matter all the way to our highest local court, but thankfully we had the wisdom of President Allen, Justice Isaacs and Justice Crane-Scott to put an end to such gross and negligent violations of the rights of Bahamian children.”