EDITOR, The Tribune.
It is clear that, instead of feeling acute embarrassment that Ralph Gonsalves had to point out from St Vincent the stark insanity of our bail situation in The Bahamas, some members of my profession chose instead to defend the indefensible.
Incidentally, the question of whether people charged with murder should be given bail in our current circumstances is one that any citizen of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is as qualified to answer as any judge, barrister or law lord. It is a question of societal values, not jurisprudence.
Where the jurisprudence comes in is in the implementation stage.
So, when you hear lawyers citing the Privy Council as an excuse for allowing our courts to repeatedly bail people to kill or be killed, it should be understood as the insult to the intelligence of Bahamians that it is.
The Privy Council has ruled (within the context of the Bahamian Constitution) that accused persons have a right to a trial within a reasonable time frame. When you consider the embarrassingly hellish conditions of our single prison and the historic sloth and inertia of our courts, this is an entirely understandable ruling.
Of course, both the condition of our prison and the speed of the trial process are the choice of our politicians. But instead of immediately reading the ruling as an indictment of our trial system and prison, which must immediately be fixed, they proceed like business as usual.
But another factor sits entirely with our judges. That is the question of judicial discretion, by which every jurist must take into account all of the circumstances (and not Only the issues upon which the Privy Council ruled) when deciding whether to grant bail.
In most other societies faced with the constant repetition of bail and murder that shocks Mr Gonsalves and everyone else hearing about crime trends in The Bahamas, one of those factors - the public interest - would operate to trump the others in almost all cases.
I could be wrong, but I am not aware of a single case where a Bahamian Judge denied bail on the basis of exercising this discretion and was overruled by the Privy Council.
On The Bahamas’ light sentencing for gun possession (which may be an even more direct immediate cause of our high murder rate) judges and politicians are equally to blame.
Ingraham actually removed the very light four-year minimum sentence at the behest of a legal/judicial lobby arrogant enough to stray into policy issues.
And judges used the discretion that Ingraham was arrogant enough to give them to make this into one of the most gangster-friendly countries in the region – with sentences for illegal gun possession being a fraction of those in comparable jurisdictions.
So don’t believe the nonsense about it being such a complex matter that only people with wigs and gowns can understand it. Gonsalves understood it perfectly well at a glance, as does almost every Bahamian who thinks about it.
In other words, the best and truest defence of our judges for both the bail and gun situation in our country is that our politicians are just as much to blame – if you call that a defence.
April 20, 2023.