By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
DISCRETION to consider bail in certain cases should be restored in the Magistrate’s Court, the country’s top judge has urged.
Addressing scores of legal officials at the 2017 Legal Year opening ceremony held in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Chief Justice Sir Hartman Longley addressed the issue concerning last year’s amendment to the Bail Act, which further restricted the powers of magistrates to consider bail in criminal matters.
“Bail continues to be a sore issue,” Sir Hartman said.
“Magistrates still continue to complain about the lack of jurisdiction in bail matters. I believe the system can be significantly improved if the jurisdiction of stipendiary and circuit magistrates in many cases of bail is restored. Precious time is wasted at both levels in matters that can and perhaps ought to be dealt with at the summary level.
“This is a matter I have addressed with the Attorney General (Allyson Maynard-Gibson) and I am happy to see the Office of the Attorney General shares our view. In fact, there is very little justification for the current situation of relieving magistrates of this jurisdiction particularly when one considers that magistrates represent the reservoir of talent from which most Supreme Court and appellate judges (are) drawn. If you do the calculations, you will find that magistrates and former magistrates make up 50 per cent of the Court of Appeal judges, 50 per cent of the Industrial Tribunal and more than 50 per cent of the Supreme Court judges.
“Perhaps some attention will be paid to this as a matter of urgency,” the chief justice said.
Last summer’s amendment to the Bail Act made charges of intentional libel, assault, stealing, and a number of other previously bailable offences non-bailable in Magistrate’s Court which resulted in an increase in the number of persons being remanded to the Department of Correctional Services and having to apply for a bond in the Supreme Court.
The amendment did not return the power of magistrates to grant bail for the offences of drug possession with intent to supply, certain firearms matters, rape, housebreaking, attempted murder and threats of death.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson, QC, told the chief justice and legal officials that the launch of the biometric bail system - expected to be launched this year - and the amendments to the Bail Act facilitating the prosecution of those who breach bail conditions, “will close the revolving door on bail”.
Addressing the 2016 Legal Year opening ceremony, she had urged the judiciary to be more hesitant to grant bail in cases of murder and other serious offences.
Sir Hartman, at last year’s sitting, acknowledged public outcry on crime and that there was a perception of a revolving door on bail. However, the chief justice, like his predecessor Sir Michael Barnett, held firm that the granting and refusal of bail is a right entrusted to the judiciary alone by the Constitution.
Court of Appeal President Justice Dame Anita Allen had also challenged critics of the judiciary’s role in the fight against crime to provide researched data proving the correlation between the court’s decision to grant bail and escalating levels of violent crimes.