Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Elsworth Johnson said he supports the government’s decision to return bail privileges to magistrates.
Johnson, who is a former Bahamas Bar Association president, said that currently many people who are tried in the Magistrates Court plead guilty because magistrates cannot grant bail.
“If someone can arraign a person, try them and sentence them, then they should be able to entertain the application for bail,” he said.
“What I have experienced, and what persons have experienced over the years, is that when the issue of going to Fox Hill arises, they would much more prefer to plead guilty than go to Fox Hill.”
Johnson added, “There was a particular case when a young man, he pled guilty, only to find that the charges against him were erroneous. But he did not want to go to Fox Hill.”
The Minnis administration tabled the Bail (Amendment) Bill in the House of Assembly in December. The bill would enable magistrates to grant bail in certain matters and to provide rules to regulate bail application procedures.
The 2016 amendment to the Bail Act restricted the ability of judges to grant bail in offenses involving intentional libel, assault, stealing and other previously bailable offenses. However, unlike the 2016 bill, this new amendment will make provisions for magistrates to grant bail for drug possession with intent to supply and certain firearms matters.
The new bill to amend the bail act will also require persons on bail to register with the bail management system as a part of their statutory declaration.
Chief Justice Brian Moree said the new bail management system will allow individuals to apply for bail with their biometrics.
Johnson praised Moree for all his efforts, but said he is especially excited for the changes to magistrates’ powers.
“I want to commend the present chief justice, for all of the improvements that he’s making to the judicial system – digitization and the bail management system. But I am extremely excited about this and I await the debate with bated breath,” he said.