The seeming frustration of Attorney General Dale Marshall with aspects of this island’s Bail Act is not surprising. All law-abiding citizens at this stage must be frustrated, especially when they discover that a lot of the mayhem on our city streets and in our villages are being committed by individuals already on bail for serious offences, inclusive of murder.
During the recent debate on the Appropriation Bill 2019, one could almost feel Mr Marshall’s pain and frustration when he asked: “Is it right that a few hoodlums can walk around with guns so that they could terrorize a population of 300 000? The mathematics of it cannot work. It can’t work!.” Sounding a warning to criminal elements, Mr Marshall spoke of improvements to the system that would shorten the time of cases being adjudicated. When we see this we will believe. Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson has been singing a similar song since assuming office and the country is still waiting for tangible defining moments against which to juxtapose this earlier promise.
Last week’s sad occurrence in close proximity to ordinary citizens going about their legitimate business at the Sheraton Complex was another timely reminder that no one is insulated from criminal violence. Mr Marshall referred to the incident during last week’s debate and his tone suggested that the days of lip service being paid to this scourge could be at an end. His tone is decidedly more strident now in Government than when he was in Opposition. This always occurs and it is not peculiar to any one political party. It is easy for Opposition politicians to identify all of society’s problems but not so easy to solve them when in the seat of power. We anticipate Mr Marshall will give this situation his best shot – pun intended.
However, it is one of the oddities of judicial proceedings in Barbados that so many accused murderers are now being bailed, when such an occurrence was previously unheard of. There must be reasons for this. Have there been changes to the Bail Act over the past 30 to 40 years that now facilitate this? Are today’s attorneys more aggressive in putting pressure on the law courts than previously? Are law courts now forced to grant murderers bail because getting the relevant criminal files from the Royal Barbados Police Force to start cases in a timely manner is more difficult than Barbados’ ability to develop nuclear capacity?
If the number of available judges to adjudicate cases is the problem then Mr Marshall can solve that. But if there are more judges and then no files to facilitate the adjudication of cases, then we dare say Mr Marshall cannot solve that. His is not an easy job as this judicial chain has more than one weak link. And unless all the links are reinforced then Mr Marshall will simply be making well-meaning speeches on either side of the Lower House or elsewhere for years to come.
So how can Mr Marshall stoke a fire under those causing stress to our judicial system? Stipulated time frames for the production of case files, especially those dealing with murder, should be implemented and disciplinary action – inclusive of suspension – taken when gross neglect and/or incompetence is found to be the root cause for this non-production. Our courts should not allow cases to be adjourned for protracted periods of time simply to facilitate lawyers being – as they deem it – “properly briefed”. Court proceedings should not be held up while protagonists quibble over money.
Adjustments could be made to the Bail Act where, in capital offences such as murder, any pre-trial release should have very strict conditions. Persons charged for murder where it was a crime of passion such as in a domestic dispute could be considered for bail in most circumstances. But surely, those who carry out paid-for executions or commit murder during the commission of another offence such as robbery, rape or burglary should not be considered fit candidates for bail. This is what is happening now. Monitoring devices attached to those granted bail for murder should be mandatory. And the unsanctioned removal of such devices should translate into immediate revocation of bail. Perhaps, some thought should be given to the deposit of actual bail security for murder rather than just a signature on a piece of paper.
If a prisoner escapes from Her Majesty’s Prisons, Dodds, and subsequently kills or harms a citizen, then the state is liable in a civil action for the deeds of that prisoner. Perhaps, we have reached a stage where if an accused murderer is given bail and that individual commits another murder or serious offence while on bail, then the state should be open to liability action as long as it can be proved that the accused was not a fit candidate to be bailed in the first place and that the court erred in its decision.
One of the failings of our system is that the humanness of our judicial officers is frequently overlooked and there is little recourse to citizens when harm results from bad decisions made. But someone should have a question to answer when the man who breaks into a home and kills its occupant is found to be on bail having done the same thing three years earlier.