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Editorial: How Much Is The Price Of Liberty?

WHAT is the value of a year of your freedom? How about two years? How about nine?

For nine years and nine months, Matthew Sewell lost his liberty despite never being convicted of a single crime.

Mr Sewell’s story is a picture of a justice system that delivers anything but justice. First, in 2006, he was detained for two years before being granted bail. Then, three years later, he was detained for more than four years without trial. In 2013, he was granted bail and previous charges were dismissed, but then was arrested again and accused of housebreaking. While on bail for that charge, he was again taken back into custody for a different accusation, for which he was never charged. When the housebreaking charge did reach court, it was dismissed – yet Mr Sewell was taken back to prison again.

Sadly, it is far from the first time this has happened. Another notable case readers may be familiar with is that of Atain Takitota.

Mr Takitota was arrested in 1992 by immigration officers in Nassau. He had no money, no passport, spoke no English but claimed to be a Japanese citizen, although authorities in Tokyo denied it.

Aged around 50 years old, his only crime was to be a homeless foreigner. For that, he spent the next eight years of his life held without charge in the maximum security wing at Fox Hill prison. He tried to kill himself three times, and only found a path to freedom thanks to the assistance of a prison officer who brought him to the attention of local lawyers. In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that his eight-year imprisonment was unconstitutional. His deportation order was set aside, and the government was ordered to give him the right to earn a living in The Bahamas. He was awarded a shockingly inadequate $1,000 in damages, and his lawyer sued, bringing Mr Takitota an award in 2006 of $500,000 plus court costs, a sum later increased again on appeal.

There will be those who protest at Mr Sewell and his lawyer, Fred Smith QC, asking for $27m in damages, but what price should we set on someone’s liberty? Some will complain that it is Fred Smith involved again – but it is a court that decided Mr Sewell was held unlawfully, not Mr Smith.

Worse, Mr Takitota’s case showed the failings of our system – and we failed to act upon it to ensure people’s lives were not ripped away without any thought to the timely delivery of justice.

Years in jail without facing trial is of no use to anyone – not the accused, not the victims of crime.

Victims do not need to be brought back to the court having lived with years of wondering whether their case will be resolved. Those accused of those crimes do not need to wait years to be given the chance to prove their innocence. The slow motion of the Bahamian justice system helps no one.

These cases are not the only ones – far from it. Will we learn from them? Or will we see the Attorney General contesting Mr Sewell’s lawsuit rather than speaking out about the failings his case exposes, and the reforms being carried out to stop it happening again?

The Attorney General, Carl Bethel, need only turn to one of his own colleagues to hear more about Mr Sewell’s case – Adrian Gibson MP was part of the legal team that secured Mr Sewell’s release.

Writing in The Tribune in 2015, Mr Gibson said: “We have seen more than enough instances of the State showing an eerie willingness to detain someone and throw away the keys without any regard to matters being heard in a court within a reasonable time or at all. The only time the State seems to care is when it’s brought to the attention of the international media and we, as a country, become subject to great embarrassment because of the foolish decisions and thoughtlessness of the few.”

The price the Bahamian government will have to pay in Mr Sewell’s case if small in comparison to the price people are paying for having their lives taken away from them. The question is not how much should be paid out in compensation, the question is what are we doing to stop this happening again?

We fear the answer to that is not enough.

Comments

bogart 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Price of liberty..???? ...........MORE GLARING CONTINUOUS PART......is WHY the Taxpaying Public continued to be stiffed, conned, deceived, bamboozled, goosied, mandated an financially liable to pay money to victims ....for decades....FOR...FOR...the GOVT WORKERS AND GOVT MANAGEMENT, GOVT APPOINTMENTS ETCETC...INEPT, INCOMPETANCE, family, friends, lovers, gross negligence, inept Official performance and lack of doing THEIR JOBS, DUTIES.......and receiving regular monthly Public Taxpaying dere salary, ....Govt Salaried jobs with befefits, some red plate vehicles benefits reaping benefits ...and on job ....that cause such harm and suffering to people.?????

The enormity of the suffering sought for, to be money compensation, must be miniscule no matter what amount, and SECOND to the PUNISHMENT OF THE OFFICIAL(S) responsible or lack of responsibilities of the victim's suffering. Repeated injustice to pouulation Taxpayers by past Govts being sticking for decades these injustices done by their staff to victims and tekking bread outta population mout imperil present childrens future, shortage of funds for population needs, national debt to pay for NEGLIGENCE, should have Staff responsible notting less than use of corporal punishment laws still on books...Of course thaint aint going to happen as the focus as seen is on the money. Govt salaried Management must be punished first where the injustice totally heinous inhuman actions on the victim was committed.

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tetelestai 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I tried to read this. But it turned into one big bitch fest, so I stopped.

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moncurcool 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I could not even make it to the end of the first sentence, wherever that is.

This reality is that this editorial is on point. We need to seriously look at judicial reform.

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proudloudandfnm 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I'd sure for 27 million for every year I was in Fox Hill. Fred is an excellent lawyer he'll get him sorted out. Good luck. Hope you get every dime. Fox Hill is a dump suitable only for animals. 27 million is nothing compared to his 10 year nightmare...

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tribanon 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Sewell would have been a free man much sooner had his lawyer Fred Smith not allowed so many other much less significant causes to consume so much of his time in recent years. While his client was languishing without freedom, Fred Smith was enjoying the good life he is so well known to be fond of.

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proudloudandfnm 2 weeks, 5 days ago

What an amazing bowl of cow dung...

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tribanon 2 weeks, 5 days ago

That's precisely what Fred left Sewell eating for way too long while wrongfully incarcerated.

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birdiestrachan 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Matthew seems to be always in front of the cameras

He was arrested a few times for offences. some of the offences, not mentioned No boy scout there.

But it does not excuse him not being brought before the courts . and kept in jail so long.

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birdiestrachan 2 weeks, 5 days ago

The Editorial page did not mention his two sexual offences a child and a girlfriend Is Matthew a bad guy or does he have bad luck?/

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moncurcool 2 weeks, 5 days ago

So he is a bad quy for having a child and a girlfriend?

Was his arrest and imprisonment without a charge as the court found for sexual offences?

Come on birdie, get woke and stay there.

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Honestman 2 weeks, 4 days ago

And since you are so eager to highlight the sins of others Birdie perhaps you would care to admit yours?

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themessenger 2 weeks, 4 days ago

@Honestman, I hope you got plenty time to spare because that list gwine be long.

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