ENGLERSTON MP Glenys Hanna Martin speaks in the House of Assembly.
By Rashad Rolle
Tribune Staff Reporter
ENGLERSTON MP Glenys Hanna Martin yesterday blasted the government’s Constitutional Amendment bill, stating that the legislation fell far short of standards other countries in the region have set and essentially preserved the status quo.
During debate in Parliament yesterday, the Free National Movement’s parliamentary caucus praised its Constitution Amendment Bill establishing the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, stating that the independence the department would receive was an overdue development that would impede political interference in criminal cases.
The kind of interference the Bill would prevent would include what some believe are politically motivated issuances of nolle prosequi (no prosecution).
But the bill doesn’t ensure this, Mrs Hanna Martin said.
Despite the general freedom the DPP would have from the Attorney General for criminal matters, the Bill gives the Attorney General the power to give the DPP specific instructions that must be followed. Those instructions, the Bill says, must be delivered in writing.
Matters relating to “public policy, national security or the international obligations of the Bahamas” are ones potentially subject to such instructions.
Mrs Hanna Martin said the categories are so broad they diminish the independence the DPP would otherwise have and open the system up to political interference.
One controversial example of a nolle prosequi that was said to have been issued on national security grounds occurred in 2013 under the Christie Administration when former Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald issued a nolle prosequi for former clients of then Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson while he was Acting Attorney General in her absence.
The action prompted criticism that persisted through the remainder of the administration’s tenure, despite claims that the nolle was important for national security reasons. Those reasons were never given.
“Do not come in here and say that you are doing something when the Bahamian people can read and write and see that you are not,” Mrs Hanna Martin said yesterday.
“There are cases in the region that have similar legislation (to this) but they did more to (ensure independence for the DPP) than we claim (would be done in) here (with this bill). “Jamaica is one, Trinidad is one; let’s be honest with the Bahamian people. The government is coming in here and claiming that they have done something that creates independence, but they are reserving for themselves or any government a continuing right to control in instances under huge categories what the independent (DPP) does.
Mrs Hanna-Martin said: “In the jurisdictions that are being pointed out in this Parliament this kind of provision is not to be found. In the Barbados case that was relied upon, you look at the categories (under which the Attorney General can give instructions), they have a similar power, but it is very narrowly defined and all of those categories are related to treason-like offences. But that’s not what this does.”
Mrs Hanna Martin said the Bill establishes “one of the worst examples of independent directors in the region or world.”
Whereas constitutional provisions for judges explain how judges are appointed, the Constitutional Amendment Bill does not make it clear how future DPPs will be appointed, Mrs Hanna Martin also said.
“That’s the first red alarm in terms of independence.”
She added the tenure the DPP would receive under the Bill “curbs the independence of” that person as well.
The Bill would appoint a DPP for a period of five years.
When that period expires, the DPP will be eligible to reappointment for a further period of five years.