With mounting public frustration over the matter of bail being granted to persons accused of murder, Government may be seeking to make adjustments to the 1996 Bail Act, in response to this issue.
This revelation was made by Attorney General Dale Marshall, who told Barbados TODAY that while he was not in a position to state the nature of the proposed changes, as the measures have not yet received Cabinet’s stamp of approval, it was clear that it could not be business as usual.
“While an individual will have his personal views on who should or should not get bail, our 1996 Bail Act allows for every defendant to receive bail. The whole idea that a murder accused can’t get bail is not now supported by our law,” he said noting that even though the law has been in existence since 1996, it was not until 2007 that a murder accused was first granted bail.
He added: “There are a number of things which we have to do including making amendments to the Bail Act so as to tighten up on the system of bail.”
However, the AG made it clear that any tightening of bail granted to murder accused must be accompanied by speedy trials for these persons.
“We can’t just deal with bail and tightening the grant of bail unless we also deal with the speed at which justice is dispensed. Every accused also has rights and to delay trials for five and ten years does not benefit the society. In some cases, witnesses’ memories will go dim and persons who are innocent would be left with this [Sword of] Damocles over their heads for over a decade,” he explained.
In addition to the proposed revisions to the Bail Act, Marshall told Barbados TODAY that Government was seeking to implement measures to take out some of the discretionary components to sentencing and replace them with a system similar to that of the US with mandatory minimum sentencing for certain categories of crimes.
“Another measure that we are seeking to put in place is a practice direction issue as it relates to sentence indicators. The whole idea is to create a logic to sentencing and not a case where a judge decides to give one individual five years and give another ten years for the same crime. That is not how sentencing works. There has to be a structure to sentencing so that the law is consistent. Individuals with similar charges and similar circumstances should be able to expect a similar sentence. That is what justice is, it has to be equal across the board,” he explained.
The Attorney General argued that this system would also be helpful in moving the judicial system along faster, as perpetrators would be more inclined to plead guilty since they would be able to gauge their length of stay in prison.
“The system of minimum sentencing indicators would allow for an accused person to make a determination as to the kind of sentencing regime he would be subject to if he pleads guilty. We have already seen some of this bearing fruit as we see those who will say ‘this is the type of sentencing range I would get, so maybe I should consider pleading guilty.’ This would be in cases where the evidence is strong,” he contended.