SHOULD bail be a right?
The question emerges after three senior figures in Bahamian life – Police Commissioner Clayton Fernander, National Security Minister Wayne Munroe and Attorney General Ryan Pinder – raised the issue.
First came National Security Minister Wayne Munroe, who said that people charged with murder should be kept in custody for their own protection.
Then came Commissioner Fernander – who said he supported the position held by Mr Munroe, that people charged with serious crimes should be kept in custody rather than be released on bail.
The issue comes about after Mr Munroe said more than 30 men who were out on bail this year were murdered. At the time of writing, the murder toll for the year stands at 85, so that represents more than a third of the total number of people slain.
Attorney General Ryan Pinder yesterday gave his view – that he does not believe it appropriate for the country to pass legislation that outright denies bail to people charged with murder, and that the Privy Council recently ruled that to do so would be unconstitutional.
The issue is riven with practical problems too. We all know how long court cases take to progress in this country, so an outright denial of bail could leave someone incarcerated for years before they are found to be guilty or innocent.
A knock-on effect of that would raise the question of where would all these extra prisoners go?
Commissioner Fernander said he hoped that there could be swift justice allowing people to go straight to trial, adding: “Let’s bring these matters in a reasonable time.”
Mr Pinder pointed to laws introduced in Trinidad to deny bail for murders, with Jamaica having a similar law, and it was the Trinidad case that prompted the Privy Council ruling.
He said: “Anything we do has to be in the purview of the Constitution and guidance by the Privy Council, which is the ultimate court of the land. Now do I think that you know, harsh sentences should be put on murderers and we shouldn’t let them roam the streets? Of course I do but it has to be done properly.”
He added: “Now, when you’re looking at going into another level, there’ll be a threat to themselves, because if they’re out on bail, they are a target. We’re not quite there yet. The Court of Appeal hasn’t gone that far yet.”
There are a number of concerns here. For one, resorting to locking up suspected killers because otherwise they might become murder victims themselves feels like an abrogation of our responsibility as a society to keep our streets safe. We can’t keep them alive outside of prison, so let’s lock them up.
To take away the possibility of bail for people who, let us remember, have not yet been convicted also overlooks the fact that if suspects have concerns for their safety, they do not actually need to apply for bail.
Bail should be a question of safety – not least of all that of the general public. Suspects who might be a danger to the public should not be allowed to roam free.
But denying bail should be the exception and not the norm.
As for those other structural failings that see court cases drag on for years and sees our prison capacity full to bursting? Those need to be addressed too – as a different discussion from whether or not bail should be denied. That logjam plays a big part, however, in delaying justice for everyone concerned – from victims and their families to suspects who may be innocent.
It’s not a simple equation – and a blanket rule for all is not the way to solve it.
A deal has been done between the government and the nurses – at last.
Yesterday saw the long-overdue signing of an industrial agreement, due to run for three years.
It is a welcome outcome, and we hope it solves the grievances of nurses and removes the spectre of industrial action from our healthcare system.
The proof will be in the delivery – over to the government to follow through. We hope that will be the last we hear of the issue for years to come. If government doesn’t deliver? It hardly bears thinking about.