One of the most sought-after legal minds in the Caribbean, Barbadian Sir Richard Cheltenham is blaming the already heavily criticized slow judicial process for the apparent frequency with which murder-accused are being granted bail, only to commit other serious offences while out awaiting trial.
While pointing to the 1996 Bail Act that entitles accused persons to bail, including those charged with murder, Sir Richard, a successful criminal attorney, said when a suspect “is rotting” in jail for upwards of six years and his preliminary enquiry has not even started, he was in his right to ask the High Court to release him temporarily.
“There is a new piece of legislation; new in relative terms, where an accused can get bail in exceptional circumstances. What has happened around here in recent times is that the system is so slow, that sometimes, five, six years after a man has been charged for murder, he remains in prison and his preliminary enquiry has not been completed . . . in some instances it has not started. Now that is a very long time,” Sir Richard told Barbados TODAY this afternoon.
“In those circumstances generally the court has said ‘look, unless the prosecution can give us an assurance that this matter can be dealt with, let’s say in the next quarter, I am afraid I would have to consider giving the accused bail,’” added the Queen’s Counsel who recently chaired the Walter Rodney Commission of Enquiry in Guyana.
Sir Richard questioned the public’s perception that murder- accused were frequently being released on bail, noting that it was unusual in Barbados for such persons to commit a second murder.
“What is the frequency with which that has happened? You [are] talking about what, one case? I don’t know . . . where a man is out for murder and then commits a second murder. It can happen, but if you are in prison and five, six years pass and your preliminary enquiry has not started, I think a man is inclined to say ‘look, you have me here on a murder charge and five, six years have passed and my case has not started, do you think that is fair to me? I want to go before the court and ask for my bail,’” he contended.
However, Sir Richard strongly suggested that the conditions of bail must be set in such a way that the police would be able to closely monitor the accused. The senior lawyer recommended conditions that range from withholding the suspect’s passport and frequent reports to a police station, as often as three times a week, to frequent phone calls so law enforcement officials can track the suspect’s movements.
“The terms should be very strict in my view. If the fellow is on bail, he should hand [in] his passport. He should report to the police every two or three days at different times . . .And when you call in now, they may ask you where you can be found . . . so that the terms could be such that even though you are on bail, even for the offence of murder, you have to call into the station with such frequency and report in person with such frequency that they really have a monitoring system on you,” the Queen’s Counsel advised.
Just last week, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Charles Leacock criticized the practice of granting bail to murder suspects, except in cases involving the elderly of young students with a strong defence.
“I really do not think that bail should be given to murder accused. We don’t necessarily have to review the Bail Act to do that. There will always be discretions, but what we have to do is to get the judges to be less willing to grant bail to persons because what experiences have shown are that it is quite problematic,” Leacock told Barbados TODAY.
“People are out on bail and allegedly committing other serious offences and it is not the first time that it is happening. We will have to review the manner in which the Act is being applied,” he said at the time.