Local attorneys are viewing with suspicion the speed at which a senior police officer facing ammunition charges was able to secure bail.
Mere hours after a magistrate remanded Acting Senior Superintendent of Police John Mark Annel to HMP Dodds until October 23, his lawyers Sir Richard Cheltenham and Shelly-Ann Seecharan were able to secure a bail hearing and convince Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson to release their client on $150,000 bail.
Today, President of the Barbados Bar Association Liesel Weekes said it was not the norm for someone facing charges to receive a bail hearing this quickly.
Weekes told Barbados TODAY the normal waiting time in recent years has been two to three weeks, insisting that the court must be seen as impartial in the manner in which it grants access to the judicial system.
“I am not certain what all of the facts are. I know that it is a high profile case because of the position that the accused holds. I do know that he was granted an urgent bail application yesterday but I do not know the circumstances under which his bail application was heard. I can say that from my understanding . . . usually bail applications tend to take some time before they come on for hearing. I cannot speculate as to why Mr Annel’s case came on as early as it did,” she said.
The 56-year-old Annel of Kenrick Hutson Drive, Lucas Street, St Philip is accused of committing six indictable offences under the Firearms Act.
He was charged with having 100 rounds of ammunition in his possession on September 20 without a valid licence.
It is also alleged that on August 31, September 3, September 9 and September 20, being a member of the RBPF, Annel engaged in willful misconduct which amounted to a breach of public trust by joining the Barbados Rifle and Pistol Federation Inc under the status of a police officer, purchased 100 rounds of ammunition to be expended on that day at the federation’s range at Waterford, and removed the ammunition from the range without expending it.
He is also accused of committing a similar offence on August 3, this time with 150 rounds of ammunition.
Weekes made a point of stressing that she did not want to attribute improper motives to the court system, while she acknowledged that bail amounts were purely at the discretion of the presiding judge.
However, the Bar Association head suggested that $150,000 was low for the charges which the senior police officer is facing.
“I do not practise in the criminal court and I do not know what informed the judge’s decision for the bail he set yesterday. I don’t know if the reports are accurate but it looks to me that the allegation involves a substantial amount of bullets. However, $150,000 seems to differ from what the bail usually is for that type of offence,” she said.
The attorney-at-law also called for all bail applications to be treated with urgency, adding that the haste with which Annel got a hearing must now become standard.
It is the same position held by prominent criminal attorney Andrew Pilgrim, QC, who told Barbados TODAY that while he did not have a problem with the expediency afforded Annel, the court must be consistent in dispensing justice.
“Justice must be the same for everybody and everyone must have equal access to the court. I don’t view the charges against Annel as that serious and I view Mr Annel on a personal level as a person that I respect. The only point I want to make is that if anyone could get access on the same day it must apply for everybody. We have to try to have that same level of consistency regardless if you black, white, police or otherwise. If people could get bail in a matter of hours then it must be so for everybody. I just want that when my clients get charged they could go before the court the same afternoon,” Pilgrim said.
Another prominent attorney, who did not want to be identified by name, was very adamant that “you cannot have one law for the Jews and one for the Gentiles”, while questioning whether Annel, the ballistics expert at the Royal Barbados Police Force, was singled out for preferential treatment.
“It can’t appear to be that one person has unusual access to the justice system above other persons in Barbados,” he said, while complaining that some of his clients with less serious allegations than Annel were subjected to bail conditions that were much more onerous.
“It shows clearly that access to the court system is not even at all and suggests that because of his position as a police officer he has gotten preferential treatment. But by doing so, the whole system is tainted,” he argued, while warning that “what is good for the goose has to be good for the gander” and that “justice must not only be done but must be manifestly seen to be done”.
The very passionate attorney was equally insistent that “a new precedent has been set for the future conduct of these matters which must be dealt with the same degree of dispatch”.
However, not all lawyers saw the Annel case through the same lens, with Arthur Holder describing the reactions of Pilgrim and Weekes as much ado about nothing.
Arthur argued that the senior police officer was not the first to have a matter heard on the same day.
“There is no precedent here. This has been done before. People like to be controversial even when there is no need to do so. These matters are all at the discretion of the judge and it has been done before,” Arthur stressed.