A significant increase in the incidence of gun-related crime over the last three decades, and growing concern among all Barbadians about the island’s current murder rate, are among the catalysts for Government’s decision to amend the Bail Act.
As he introduced the amendment in the Senate this morning, which will restrict bail being granted to people who are on remand for serious offences like murder, Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Jerome Walcott, quoted statistics from the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit which indicated just how serious the problem had become.
“Between 1989 and 1998 there were 184 murders in Barbados, and only 24 were firearm-related. For the period 1999 to 2008, we recorded 267 murders, with 101 involving firearms, and between 2009 and 2018, there were 260 murders, with firearms accounting for 140 of them.
“So far this year half of the 20 murders we have recorded involved firearms. Years ago there was a practice of not granting bail to murder accused, but that is limited now and only applies if they fail to surrender, interfere with witnesses or if the Court does not believe the person should be granted bail.”
He added that there were too many recent incidents in which people who were charged with murder received bail, and ended up being charged with murder or firearm-related offences after their release from custody.
Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn, in welcoming the amendment, said ideally murder cases should be “fast-tracked”.
“If a person is accused of a crime, spends seven years on remand but turns out to be innocent, the state will have destroyed this man’s life because in the interim he would have lost his job and possibly his family as well. There should be some kind of compensation for those who spend years on remand and are proven innocent.”
Senator Franklyn said once all the evidence and witnesses were in place, it should be easy to get murder cases heard as quickly as possible. “It is best to bring these things to court when they are still fresh in the memories of all the parties involved, because with the passage of time, people might not remember exactly what transpired or may remember only certain aspects of it. There are also too many people who end up on remand for frivolous matters, and this is choking up the system.”
Government Senator, Lisa Cummins, said she was disturbed at the fact that criminals were being hailed as heroes in their communities via social media and other platforms, and called for greater community involvement at all levels to help stem the tide of deviance which had resulted in the spike in murders recorded so far this year.
Following on from this point, Senator Dr. Romel Springer lauded Government’s decision to put more social workers and guidance counsellors in the primary schools and cited four main reasons why society was heading down the wrong path.
“First, parents are not insisting that their children go to church anymore, so they are lacking that moral and religious grounding. Second, parents now want to be ‘cool’, they want to be their children’s friend, as opposed to setting the standard for their children; children as young as 11 and 12 years old are at fetes and other events with adult men and women while their parents are at home sleeping. All too often parents are letting technology raise their children; that is, they are giving them a tablet and they are looking at all kinds of videos and websites which send their moral compass off track.”
In lending her support to the bill, Barbados Workers’ Union General Secretary, Senator Toni Moore, agreed with Senator Cummins that more Barbadians needed to get into the community and offer their services as mentors to young people.
“We must move beyond words to save our young people. There are many children in our schools without the tools they need to advance at a proper rate, and many who are living in environments where they do not have home support to show them a brighter future. While this current amendment is not the answer or the perfect solution, it will help us pull our society back from all the negatives that have entrapped us for a number of years now. Therefore it should not be politicised.”