The Convener of the Barbados Bar Association’s Human Rights’ Committee, Lalu Hanuman, is taking issue with the move by the government to implement legislation making it much more difficult for persons to be granted bail.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Dale Marshall announced that persons charged with murder or firearm offences punishable by at least 10 years in prison, would not be eligible for bail within two years after being charged, except in special circumstances.
He said that while the country continues to battle the surge in murders, there are suggestions that the time should be increased to 36 months or in some cases no bail should be granted at all, the state still has to be mindful of the rights of the individual.
“We still have a duty to maintain an orderly society where rights of individuals are balanced. To set a bail restriction of 24 months we think that is reasonable in this case. We know that dealing with the Bail Act this way will not solve all of our problems but I am convinced it will go a long way in bringing some order to our streets.”
According to the amendment to the Bail Act “in any case where a person is charged with murder, treason and high treason or an offence under the Firearms Act which is punishable with imprisonment of ten years or more that such a person shall not be granted bail unless 24 months have passed.”
But Hanuman, who has joined a number of prominent attorneys here, including Queen’s Counsel, Andrew Pilgrim, in criticising the legislation, said while he understood the need for something to be done to address the problem, the amendment to the Bail Act is “unconstitutional”.
“While no rational person wants murderers or gun-toting criminals walking the streets of Barbados, we as a society must be exceedingly wary of the recently-passed Bail (Amendment) Bill which restricts persons charged with murder and serious gun crimes from accessing bail before 24 months have elapsed. Though this legislation may well appeal to the public gallery, it is a knee-jerk, ill thought out reaction to the valid concerns held by the public.”
Hanuman said the legislation “is unconstitutional as it breaches Article 13 (3) of the Barbadian Constitution which holds that bail is available for all offences if the matter is not determined within a reasonable time. Spending 24 months on remand cannot be said to be a reasonable time period for someone who is deemed to be innocent by law”.
He is calling for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to be more proactive, resulting in speedier trials and verdicts being handed down.
The human rights attorney said instead of denying accused persons bail, alternatives such as electronic monitoring could prove helpful.
“Ensuring that the DPP gets their act together and not have accused persons waiting for six and a half years for disclosure – as is the case in a matter that I am involved in – would result in speedy hearings. That is where the focus needs to be, not on depriving accused persons of their fundamental human rights,” Hanuman said.
“Ankle electronic monitoring [known as “tagging”] as used in England to monitor curfews and other bail conditions imposed by a court, can be a solution to monitoring those on bail.”