70% conviction rate for murdersSubstantial decline in the issuance of nolles by AG
Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday that while 70 percent conviction rate for murder and related offenses, such as manslaughter and attempted murder in 2017 is decent, his office is hoping that the percentage will increase to 75 or 80 percent.
Bethel was speaking at a special sitting of the Supreme Court to mark the opening of the legal year.
Of the 78 murder cases prosecuted, there were 54 convictions and 16 acquittals, he said.
Bethel said the voluntary bill of indictment (VBI) process continued to be used to circumvent the time-consuming preliminary inquiry process.
According to Bethel, 231 cases were fast-tracked to the Supreme Court for trial by VBIs.
Bethel also revealed that The Bahamas should have its first ever independent director of public prosecutions (DPP) by month’s end.
He described the Constitution Amendment Bill, which devolves the prosecutorial powers vested in the attorney general to the DPP, as the cornerstone of the government’s efforts to “improve the administration of justice, the rule of law, to create transparency and accountability in government”.
Bethel pointed out that the DPP will have the same security of tenure of a justice of the Supreme Court and from henceforth the prosecutions will now be commenced in the name of the DPP.
He said, “We believe and trust that through this process we have erected a constitutional cordon sanitaire between a political appointee, the attorney general and the public prosecutions in this country, which degree of separation we hope will enhance public confidence in the integrity of the day-to-day exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”
The power to initiate and discontinue prosecutions will lie with the DPP. Bethel said that the Constitution Amendment Bill was being gazetted and the “appointed day of notice to the end of this month”.
Bethel noted that last year fewer backlogged cases were discontinued by the issuance of nolle prosequis.
In 2017, 31 nolles were issued in contrast to the 96 in the previous year.
Bethel said, “This threefold decrease is indicative of a policy to use the power of the nolle more sparingly, and only in those cases which are hopelessly beyond prosecution.”
The issuance of nolles was a thorny issue for the former administration.
There were claims that the procedure was being abused when a gun case against a couple, whom former AG (Attorney General) Allyson Maynard-Gibson had represented at their arraignment, was discontinued by acting AG Jerome Fitzgerald.
Bethel noted any interference by the attorney general to the work of the DPP is now required to be gazetted in the interest of transparency.
He said if the insulation guaranteed to the DPP is in any way pushed aside, the public would know, as everyone would have to be informed by way of the gazetting of any such directions.
“The first such specific direction that I propose to gazette is that any specific directions from the attorney general to the DPP must be transparent; consistent with lawful authority, principles and international standards and best practices; consistent with the due safeguarding of the actuality and the perception of prosecutorial independence; and further such specific direction to the director of public prosecutions, when gazetted, shall state what the direction is and why such direction is given (inclusive of the rationale for such direction),” Bethel said.
Bethel also announced amendments will be proposed “to enhance the full anonymity of witnesses, fully hiding the face and altering the voice, in cases where there is a clear and present danger of the assassination of witnesses or danger to their family and dependents.”
The Court of Appeal last year overturned a murder conviction and ordered a retrial because an anonymous witness had been concealed from the jurors and the judge.
Bethel also envisaged the introduction of electronic filing in civil matters, eliminating tomes of documents being filed and safeguarding against their loss.
“There were also several legislative initiatives undertaken to defend and further enhance the reputation of The Bahamas as a financial services center and to ensure that The Bahamas as a jurisdiction remains current with international industry standards and best practices.
“These include amendments to the International Tax Cooperation (Amendment) Act and the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information (Amendment) Act, both of which have been brought into force.
“The first two pieces of legislation paved the way for The Bahamas to sign on to the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, which The Bahamas signed on December 15, 2017, becoming the 116th jurisdiction to join the world’s leading instrument for transparency in taxation administration and combatting cross-border tax evasion.”
Bethel also announced the proposed introduction of an Anti-Terrorism Bill, which will serve to counter not only terrorism but also proliferation offenses sometimes associated with terrorism, such as the trade in or possession of biological and chemical weaponry as well as in nuclear materials.
He said it was necessary to conform to ever-changing global standards that were put in place by “powerful blocs of countries, acting through supra-national organizations”.
Bethel said there would be continued dialogue and amendments if necessary to the Integrity Commission Bill, which aims to ensure standards of integrity among those in public office.
Noting that there has already been “pushback” to the proposal, he said, “What must be clear to all is the resolute determination on our part to enhance the standards of conduct in public life and to stamp out the blight of corruption, or perhaps the perception of corruption, in high places.”