Criminal lawyers are in full support of today’s High Court ruling which has shot down Government’s heavy-handed approach in dealing with firearm offences.
Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim and Michael Lashley, along with Mohia Ma’at all believe justice has been served following Justice Shona Griffith’s ruling that it is unconstitutional for an accused charged with a firearm to be automatically remanded for two years before they can be granted bail.
In applauding his colleague Queen’s Counsel Larry Smith who successfully challenged Government’s decision, Pilgrim said he was relieved to see the decision to grant bail would be back in the hands of judges.
He described the two-year mandatory remand period as “a sentence prior to a finding of guilt”.
“This is an important decision. It retains confidence in the rule that people are innocent until proven guilty. We don’t want our prisons to be full of innocent people on remand. We want our prisons to be populated by persons who are being punished having been found guilty by the courts so this is an extremely important decision in that regard,” Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY.
“I am happy to see that the ruling has been made. It’s the only sensible ruling that could be made. It’s a great decision and great work by my colleague Larry Smith who is always excellent at exposing these Constitutional gaps, so congratulations to him and I’m sure that judges in the criminal division will be delighted to know that they are now free to grant bail without the strictures that were attended these matters for the past few years.”
Pilgrim said the ruling also paved the way for accused to possibly seek redress.
“I suppose they could sue for it but they aren’t going to just get compensation. You have to now sue and say you were denied this right for a certain period. Government isn’t going to just up and start paying away money,” he maintained.
Fellow attorney-at-law Lashley told Barbados TODAY he was not surprised by the court’s decision.
“My position on it was that it was bad from the start. You can’t keep persons in prison for 24 months and then don’t even try to fast-track the trial, don’t even prepare a file, don’t even have one statement; and particularly in some instances where you have people charged with five rounds of ammunition or two rounds of ammunition who have been in jail for six or seven or eight months who want to plead guilty.
“From day one my position on it was that it was unconstitutional. Although bail is within the discretion of the trial judge or the court and there is a right to bail, once there is nothing that will move a court to decide that an accused man is a flight risk or he won’t attend court or is a threat to society, then nothing should fetter the court’s discretion,” Lashley said.
In hailing the decision, Ma’at, a veteran attorney-at-law, said he believed innocent persons were on remand at HMP Dodds because of Government’s legislation.
He said while he understood the reason Government passed the legislation, it was not fair.
“You could imagine there are people who are innocent who got caught in that trap. If a study was to be done later on involving the people who were placed on remand for those two years there will be a percentage of people who were found not guilty.
“People who take a broader view and who believe that we have to do something to curb crime will be for it, especially Government. I could understand that, but at the same time they can’t unfair people and take away their rights,” Ma’at said.