When crises come calling, they should not be met with responses derived from reactionary panic. Nor should those responses be made simply as a show of flexing political muscles. Instead, the responses should relate to unearthing the core deficiencies leading to the crises and seeking to remedy them with as much efficient and forthright intervention as is humanly possible.
The Mia Mottley administration cannot be faulted for its willingness to take action whenever and wherever such is required. The present Government cannot be accused of inertia nor does it give the impression that it is possessed of a mañana mentality. However, Government must guard against seeming to be treating the symptoms rather than the cause.
Recent amendments to the Bail Act will receive nods of approval from some quarters and they will also have their detractors. But in the final analysis, we are all concerned about the drug trade and related gun violence in the country and are willing to do what is necessary to put a major dent in both.
Revelations that several murders in Barbados over the past few years have been committed by persons already on bail for similar offences have caused understandable concern. Government has sought to address this by, among other things, stipulating that anyone charged with murder, treason, high treason or any offence under the Firearms Act punishable with imprisonment of ten years or more, shall not be granted bail unless 24 months have expired after the person was charged.
We believe, however, that our lawmakers need to revisit this, not only from the point of view of the amendment taking discretionary powers from the law courts in that initial two-year period but it also seemingly does not take into consideration that the circumstances of illegal or unlawful possession of a firearm will vary. Though unlawful possession of a firearm is an offence in itself, there is still a difference between a shopkeeper with a clean record having unlawful possession of a firearm which he never used up to the stage of its discovery and the armed thug using a firearm in frequent criminal activity.
As it relates to bail for murder accused, one cannot be too harsh on Government for trying measures to keep murderous fiends off the streets. But here is the irony. At the heart of murder accused walking our streets and sometimes committing more crimes are the inefficiencies in the Royal Barbados Police Force. Police officers are shooting themselves in the foot by diligently investigating serious crimes, apprehending suspects, putting them before the courts, and then failing to produce the requisite files in a timely manner. In basically every instance where murder accused are bailed before their trial, it is directly because the investigating officers have not produced the related files. In essence, the law courts have no choice but to grant bail to accused murderers because there is still the presumption of innocent until proven guilty.
And this negligent behaviour seems endemic in the Royal Barbados Police Force. If anyone was paying attention over the past three to five years, he or she would have noticed the high number of cases dismissed in the Magistrates’ Courts for lack of prosecution. In most instances, if not all, cases have been dismissed because prosecutors have no files to start them and magistrates have grown tired of the myriad excuses why they are no files. In most situations, these files have not surfaced at the courts five or more years after the particular accused was arrested.
And if this situation is so chronic, one can only imagine how worse it will get if there is the perception that with the recent amendment to the Bail Act, police officers are guaranteed at least two years of having a murder accused off the streets, hence giving them at least a 24-month period “to play with” in terms of production of files. This is the haemorrhage in the system that is not being sutured and has not been addressed for years.
Attorney General Dale Marshall cannot solve this situation. But the Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith and his senior administrators can. But, based on what currently obtains, the problem is seemingly not receiving the dispatch it deserves. There are many in the system who suggest that promotions in the Royal Barbados Police Force have been so chaotic dating back more than a decade that the non-production of files for serious offences such as murder stems from inexperienced supervisors not having the functional wherewithal to give directions on these important files. Tonight on national television attorney-at-law Kristin Turton spoke on the same issue as it relates to murder cases not being started five or more years after the accused was charged and thus leaving the court little option but to grant bail.
Laws and amendments will solve little if the stakeholders in the judicial system are not functioning effectively. Some punitive measures must be introduced by Commissioner Griffith to ensure that cases dealing with murder or other serious indictable matters are completed within a three-month period. Other than waiting for forensic evidence or for test results on samples submitted to the Government laboratory, there is no reason why investigators cannot produce case files within a three-month time frame.
The next time someone is arrested for murder who is already on bail for murder, more than likely that individual is on bail because of someone’s failure to do his or her job to facilitate a timely trial.