A High Court judge has sought to set the record straight on the granting of bail for persons accused of capital offences.
Madam Justice Jacqueline Cornelius Tuesday explained in the No.5 Supreme Court that accused persons held on remand pending pretrial must be tried within a reasonable period.
She pointed to the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice, which states that those alleged of committing such crimes could not be held for an “unreasonable period”.
There was much public outrage this year after two men facing murder charges were freed on bail.
Sean Watson, a draughtsman of Ballantyne, Christ Church was released on bail in April, four years after he was charged with the murder of his estranged wife Nicole Harrison-Watson; and Andre Lord Evil Jackman of Stroud Bay, Crab Hill, St Lucy was released on bail in May. Jackman is accused of the April 2014 murder of Charly Dume who died after being shot at a bar in Nelson Street, The City.
Cornelius, who earlier this month extended Lord Evil’s curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and also suspended the curfew for one weekend to facilitate his pending nuptials, explained that those released were offered bail for breach of their constitutional right to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
She added that the State had “to balance the right of every accused person to a fair trial . . . with the protection of the community . . . and to ensure that respect for the rule of law and public confidence in the rule of law is upheld”.
Cornelius told those in attendance the situation was as a direct result of a backlog of murder cases in the judicial system.
“It is the most serious offence and the public has a very strong feelings that men and women charged with murder should as much as possible be brought to trial as quickly as possible,” she said.
The judge also revealed that her court had been given an “insurmountable task” of a docket of over 400 cases to deal with between September 2015 and 2016.
This caseload, she said, was tackled by her staff, prosecutors, criminal attorneys and police and prison officers through a “clustered” approach, which resulted in the “more serious cases”, particularly capital matters, being heard.
To this end, she revealed that five murder cases were adjudicated and another 15 guilty pleas were accepted among over 70 of the 400 cases that were completed.
She also cited a lack of resources as a reason for the delay in delivering timely justice in cases, saying there were accused persons on remand who had indicated a desire to plead guilty but a lack of resources in the typing and administration of their depositions hindered progress.
The Registrar was looking at situation, she said, but there were still issues surrounding delays that remained a concern.
Cornelius added that changes needed to be made to the system, including the establishment of a specialized sexual offences court and sentencing guidelines for the judiciary.
The pretrial system, she said, also needed serious work.