By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE Minnis administration is seeking to make changes to the Bail Act by introducing a bail management system that ensures accountability while eliminating loopholes that allow impropriety.
The changes will also make it more difficult for repeat offenders to receive bail.
While debating the amendment to the Bail Act in the House of Assembly, National Security Minister Marvin Dames said while crime continues to trend downwards, the public remains enraged by malicious acts of violence.
He suggested many crimes are committed by repeat offenders, but the bail management system would ensure offenders do not create further crimes along with serving as protection for victims.
Further, the new system will bring accountability to and credibility to issues surrounding sureties.
Over the last five years there have been on average per year some 664 people being granted bail by the respective courts. Within the five-year period the highest numbers were in 2018 when around 939 people were granted bail and in 2017 when some 809 were granted bail.
“The new system will also ensure that people are present at court at the appointed time,” Mr Dames said. “It will eliminate the burden on the police and tax payers to track and monitor defendants daily. It also protects those defendants’ rights to remain innocent while awaiting trial.
“At the same time, it balances the rights with a victim’s rights to have their day in court, to be heard and to be protected. It will be mandatory for individuals affected by this act with existing reporting requirements as a condition of bail to register with the bail management system.”
The amendment to the Bail Act was tabled in 2019 and will also enable magistrates to grant bail in certain matters and to provide rules to regulate bail application procedures.
A 2016 amendment to the Bail Act, which was passed under the former Christie administration, restricted the ability of judges to grant bail in offences involving intentional libel, assault, stealing and other previously bailable offences. The amendment also did not return the power of magistrates to grant bail for the offences of drug possession with intent to supply, rape, housebreaking, attempted murder and threats of death.
However, unlike the 2016 bill, this new amendment will make provisions for magistrates to grant bail for drug possession with intent to supply and certain firearms matters.
Mr Dames said yesterday: “The genesis of the (2016) amendment stemmed from the belief at that time that this court (Magistrate’s) was being too lenient on persons charged with serious offences and allowing prolific offenders out on bail to engage in nefarious activities. Included in the amendments was the restriction on a magistrate to grant bail to persons convicted of certain specified offences.
“It should be noted that a person not tried in three years was considered reasonable not to be granted bail. The thinking at the time was to be sufficiently restricted so that the courts would have much more to consider prior to granting bail.
“However, this unforeseeable action resulted in an increase in the number of persons being remanded to the Department of Correctional Services and having to apply for a bond in the Supreme Court.
“The current advancement in the judicial sector underscores the need for the law to be reviewed and revised and remove the bottleneck effect which impeded the pipeline of the sector.”
There also will be increased powers for the Magistrate’s Court system.
“The new amendment seeks to increase the jurisdiction of the Magisterial Court to grant bail in relation to offences listed in part (d) of the first schedule. The Magisterial Court will have the ability to grant bail for possession of prohibited weapons and ammunition as listed in Section 30 of Chapter 213 of the Firearms Act.
“For many years the topic of bail remained a sore issue, especially among magistrates. Our administration has confidence in the Magisterial Court as they are trained professionals who have witnessed the reformation of the judicial sector.
“This move has also been supported by the highest court in the country.
“Our administration now believes that with the new bail management system and the complementary restoration of the magisterial powers, then the judicial system will significantly improve and become more efficient.
“The two coupled together will save precious time as matters presented at the summary level can be dealt with by a talented pool of individuals, many of whom go on to serve as Supreme “Court and Appellate Court judges.”
Regarding sureties, Mr Dames said this is a critical component of the sector as these people take on a legal obligation to ensure accused persons while on bail adhere to law.
“There have been issues regarding sureties’ credibility and ability to be honest when assisting a person requesting and/or on bail. Therefore, it was important to address this area in the new bail management system.
“If the changes were to be significant the noted clause would amend the principle act to require a surety to utilise the bail management system for the purpose of making his or her statutory declaration.”