By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
THE Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee has been directed to begin expunging the records of people convicted of breaking Emergency Orders, committee chairman Paul Farquharson said yesterday.
The process, however, is not automatic, and people must apply to have their records expunged.
Mr Farquharson said four such people have applied to his committee already and the body was expected to examine their applications following yesterday’s press conference.
“As you are aware there are several offences that were established under the Emergency Order and curfew,” he said. “As announced by the minister of national security two weeks ago, these matters ought to be brought before the committee almost immediately. Those persons who have contravened the curfew and paid their fines and we have a few of those applications before us today, we want to encourage members of the public throughout The Bahamas who have had or were convicted under the Emergency Orders and the curfew to apply to the committee for those records to be expunged.”
Family Island residents can get applications from island administrators, he said.
“The offences under the Emergency Order are treated as ticketed offences,” he added. “It becomes a criminal offence as I understand it when the fine is not paid or there is a custodial sentence involved.”
After the Emergency Orders were put in place as part of COVID-19 restrictions last year, scores of people were prosecuted for various offences including violating curfew.
One high profile case involved the conviction of an 18-year-old man who faced a $700 fine or one month in prison for selling roadside coconuts in breach of the orders.
Concerned citizens came together to pay his fine and lamented that the teen was “burdened” with a criminal record that stifled his chances of success.
Yesterday, Mr Farquharson said the committee has received 200 applications for expungement since its establishment in 2019. Forty-one people have had their records expunged so far.
He said the views of criminal victims will now be considered when his committee considers the applications of those wishing to have their records expunged.
National Security Minister Wayne Munroe, in a separate interview, said that hearing what victims have to say would be a valuable addition to the expungement process, one he directed the committee to include.
“I was briefed by Commissioner Farquharson about the work of the committee as part of my general briefing and the process involved in the exercise comprises getting an application, getting the facts, getting a report from police, from the Department of Corrections if the person was in prison and sometimes something from social services; and they also interview the offender,” he said. “I told them that was fine. That’s a fairly broad consultation. You can’t really satisfy any process involving a crime without hearing what the victim has to say. So going forward, where there is a victim of an offence that can be included in the process, they are to include those people.”
Mr Munroe said the views of the victim won’t sway the final decision “as much as people may think.”
“If, for instance, the question is have you been rehabilitated, how you interact with the victim after the offence might affect your status,” he said. “If you commit an offence against somebody and then continue harassing them and that can be shown, that would show you are a person who is insufficiently remorseful. On the other hand, sometimes what a victim says can cause you to expunge or grant parole when you may not ordinarily have done so. Sometimes they bring something to the table that the record didn’t show and it may change what you would have otherwise done.”
Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (Amendment) 2015, people who have committed murder, manslaughter, treason, armed robbery, rape or possessed dangerous drugs with the intent to supply cannot have their records expunged. After five years, however, most others are eligible if they are first-time offenders or were younger than 21 at the time of their first conviction.
To date, the committee has received 157 applications from New Providence residents. Thirty-one records have been expunged, 27 referred to the Prerogative of Mercy, six referred for counselling, eight applied to early and 87 are waiting on reports to be seen by the committee.
Of the 23 applications from Grand Bahama residents, nine records have been expunged, two told to reapply, three referred to the Prerogative of Mercy, two are waiting for their rehabilitation to be completed, one has been recommended for counselling, six did not show up and nine are still to be considered. Otherwise, there have been eight applications submitted in Bimini and one application in Exuma, the record of which was expunged.