The Barbados Bar Association today said every person charged with an offence in Barbados is entitled to bail. It made the comment in a statement that was described as an explanation following considerable public debate over the case involving Superintendent of Police John Annel.
“The recent highly publicized bail application on behalf of Superintendent John Annel to the High Court and the public interest it generated requires an explanation from the Barbados Bar Association,” the statement said.
It went on: “That Superintendent Annel was able to secure a bail application before the High Court on the same day he was charged is permitted by the Bail Act and is proper and should be the norm rather than the exception.
“By section 4 of the Bail Act CAP 122A of the Laws of Barbados, everyone charged with an offence is entitled to bail. That entitlement is subject to certain other conditions set out in the said Act.
“The starting point is the entitlement. Implicit in that entitlement is that a person charged with an offence is entitled to be brought before a Court properly empowered to hear an application for bail, as soon as reasonable after being charged.
“Section 5(4) (d) of the Bail Act Cap states that only a High Court Judge can hear and determine an application for bail made by a person accused of an offence under the Firearms Act. Magistrates are therefore not empowered to grant bail for those offences.
“Consequently when a person accused of committing an offence under the Firearms Act is brought before a Magistrate, that Magistrate advises the accused that he has no power to grant bail and remands the accused. There is no automatic transfer or scheduling of a bail application before the High Court.
“The better course to be taken should be that when the person is charged under the Firearms Act, they should be taken immediately before the High Court to have their bail application dealt with instead of the wasted step of appearing before the Magistrate.
“What can potentially happen is that a person without the resources to apply to the High Court may be on remand indefinitely for a firearms charge without appearing as of right before a court of competent jurisdiction to consider an application for bail.
“This is a situation that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency as it concerns the liberty of the individual and affects their constitutional rights. This is a matter that is capable of being resolved easily either by restoring jurisdiction to the magistrates to hear bail applications for persons charged with firearms offences or alternatively making it mandatory that the person once charged, is taken before a High Court Judge instead of a Magistrate.
“The recent highly publicized bail application served to emphasize the inequality in our judicial system between those with the means to secure their rights and those without. The Bar’s concern is not with the speed at which the recent application was heard but rather that that same facility should be available to all as of right.
“These unnecessary steps also serve to clutter the judicial system and add to the backlog. It was noted recently that the Chief Justice pointed to a decision of the CCJ in which they acknowledged and apologized for their delay in delivering their decision.
“It appeared that the reference to the CCJ’s delay was to highlight that there is delay even at the highest level of the Judiciary. Whether true or not, this in no way bears upon whether our system is in need of review and recalibration.
“The comment was both unnecessary and unfortunate and the Barbados Bar Association takes issue with it. The inefficiencies and delays in our system are systemic and are frustrating all users of our judicial system. They must be properly identified (with the aid of statistics and empirical evidence as opposed to anecdotes and conjecture) and rectified once and for all.”