By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
SENATORS JoBeth Coleby-Davis and Lisa Bostwick-Dean both expressed concern yesterday regarding Bahamians having permanent stains on their criminal records for curfew infractions.
Their concerns were raised when the Leader of Government business in the Senate, Attorney General Carl Bethel presented a number of Bills to the House, including an amendment to the Bail Act and Juries Act.
Chief component of the Amendment to the Bail Act is to give the Magistrate’s Court authorisation to grant bail and also for those who sign in at police stations, while on bail, to use an iris and finger print recognition kiosk to register instead of signing a book.
The Juries Act Amendment will give judges authority to replace jurors.
“I support this amendment to the Bail Act, because as an attorney, while I do not frequent the courts, there has been a mountain of complaints publicly by persons charged with misdemeanours who were remanded because of them missing out on the opportunity to appear before the Supreme Court in time for a bail hearing,” Senator Coleby-Davis said.
“These are the sort of experiences we wish to avoid. The law is not in place to create and make criminals out of our young men or women, matter of fact, it is not there to unintentionally make anyone a criminal. Justice should be swift and justice should be fair. And part of our duties in this place is to ensure we stand in support when there are laws that were so erroneous in their efforts that they have done more harm to members of our society than any good.”
Senator Coleby-Davis said she did not think the intent of the government was to create criminals out of Bahamians during a pandemic and the associated lockdowns and curfews, sometimes at very short notice.
“Laws should protect and serve the innocent, but we must be human enough to identify that even in cases where persons may have erred in their actions and judgment, as a misdemeanour, we don’t cast them away,” she said.
“It’s difficult enough with those who have been laid off, who must find funds for rent, mortgage, and food to feed their families to now realize they have a criminal record. So I join my colleague Wayne Munroe, QC, in calling for the records of those individuals who breached the COVID-19 orders to be expunged.”
Senator Lisa Bostwick-Dean, used the debate to weigh in on the decriminalisation of possession of marijuana for recreational use which sometimes causes those who get caught with it to have criminal records.
“I am against the industrial use of the version which has the hallucinatory property about it,” said Senator Bostwick-Dean. “However, I feel it should be decriminalised. I don’t want to see people getting criminal records because they had a joint on them. I don’t want to see them spending time because they had a joint on them and could not pay the fine.
“I don’t want to see, whether it’s a young person or an adult, someone going to smoke a joint and getting a criminal record for drug possession. I don’t want to see that. I think the court should look to other means for addressing it. You can send people to therapy to try to address their drug use, but they should not be imprisoned or have a criminal record.”
Senator Bostwick-Dean said she specifically supports decriminalisation of marijuana for recreational use and favours the Hemp Industry for Industrial purposes which means the strain of the cannabis sativa plant which has very low amount of THC in it, but has the higher concentration of CDD.
“I am a very strong proponent for Industrial Hemp – the manufacturing side where we can use it to make sisal, textiles, medicine which do not have the hallucinatory effect,” she continued. “I think that’s a huge industry. You are looking at $1.1 billion. Last year projected up to $2.6 billion by 2022.
“This is a discussion that needs to be had and people really need to be informed so they realise they are talking about different things when they say the word Hemp. This will be good for our economy. I am concerned about the slant that is currently being given to the discussion (on marijuana) and I want to try to ensure that people have an informed and open discussion.”