The House of Assembly yesterday passed the Bail (Amendment) Bill, 2019, increasing the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Courts to grant bail in certain cases and to provide for the establishment of rules for regulating the procedures for applying for bail.
During debate on the bill, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said it reflects global trends in the reformation to the provisions of bail management and seeks to serve the interest of citizens.
“In 2011, amendments to the Bail Act led to changes in the Magistrates Courts’ ability to grant bail,” he noted.
“The genesis of the amendment stemmed from the belief, at the time, that this court was being too lenient on persons charged with serious offenses and allowing prolific offenders out on bail to engage in more nefarious activities.
“Included in the amendment was the restriction on magistrates to grant bail to persons convicted of certain specified offenses…such as prohibited weapons and ammunition.”
Dames added, “It should be noted that a person not being tried in three years was considered reasonable not to be granted bail.”
He said the thinking at the time was to be “sufficiently restrictive so that the courts would have much more to consider prior to granting bail”.
“However, this unforeseeable action resulted in an increase in the number of persons being remanded to the Department of Correctional Services and having to apply for a bond in the Supreme Court,” Dames said.
“The current advancement in the judicial sector underscores the need for the law to be reviewed and revised and remove the bottleneck effect which impedes the pipeline of this sector.”
Dames noted,“The Magistrates’ Courts will have the ability to grant bail for possession of prohibited weapons and ammunition as listed in Section 30 of Chapter 213 of the Firearms Act” as well as other firearms-related offenses.
The minister said the topic of bail has remained “a sore issue” among magistrates.
He said the Minnis administration has confidence in the magisterial court, noting that the magistrates are “trained professionals who have witnessed the reformation of the judicial sector”.
Dames said the government believes that with a new Bail Management System and the complementary restoration of magisterial powers, the judicial system will significantly improve.
“The two coupled together will save precious time as matters presented at the summary level can be dealt with by the talented pool of individuals, many of whom go on to serve as Supreme Court and appellate judges,” he said.
The minister noted that in 2016, the Christie administration signed a $2.5 million contract for a Bail Management System, however, proper legislation to support the same was not put in place.
He predicted the new Bail Management System will have an instantaneous impact on the judicial sector.
“Often, decisions are made every day on the granting of bail and I am proud to say that, in the vast majority of cases, the right decision is made,” Dames said.
“This system will aid that decision to grant bail and it will clear the backlog in the system and, coupled with the restoration of Magisterial Courts’ ability to grant bail, will be extremely helpful in ensuring that bail terms are adhered to and the appropriate but effective responses are available when they are not adhered to. This will not only apply to the accused but the suretor.”
The minister added, “Let it be known to those who believe that bail facilitates a revolving door for persons to commit offences, such is not the case.
“This system is not designed to allow easy access to bail as, clearly, more serious offences will be more difficult to obtain bail. This is because of a need to manage any risks associated with the liberty of the accused.
“The fact that a person does or does not get bail will not affect the final determination of guilt or innocence that will, in the end, be made by a court.”
The government will introduce the first biometric technology system that manages all bail applications throughout the country. In the past, there were many discrepancies with the application of bail processes and to avoid any future issues the system is being introduced, Dames said.
He said the new biometric technology has a number of capabilities that allow the system to collect, store, track and monitor valuable data in the following categories: allowing suspects to comply with their bail conditions using their photograph and fingerprints recognition; a preventative component which seeks to discontinue suretors from signing bail for more than one person; preventing individuals from impersonating suspects and signing the registers at the police stations; and it will digitally track any breaches of the bail conditions.
This advancement in technology will be monitored by Multimedia Technologies, a Bahamian company that will have the ability to track all information in relation to bail, from applications to regular sign-ins, reports and to monitoring whether a suretor signed for someone previously.
“All of the aforesaid undertaking will support the enforcement of existing laws,” the minister said.
If any suspects do not adhere to the bail conditions set by the courts, the new system would be prompted to send an alert to the police, prosecution and to the suretors.
“It should be noted that over the last five years there has been an average of approximately 664 persons granted bail by the respective courts,” Dames said.
“Within the five-year period, the highest amounts were in 2018 when 939 were granted bail and 2017 when 809 were granted the same.
“The system will be an electronic one which will serve to offer a more efficient and secure platform in which one can apply for bail. First, Section 2 (A) will allow potential applicants in criminal cases to use the automated web-based system to apply for bail using their unique biometrics (fingerprints and photos) with physical kiosks.
“The application process will allow persons to apply irrespective of whether or not they are represented by a lawyer or not.”