Editorials

The complex bail issue

Every commissioner of police we can think of in recent memory has expressed deep frustration over arresting suspects in relation to violent crimes only for them to be released on bail and become (allegedly) involved in more serious crimes.

Police understandably feel that they are taking one step forward and three leaps backward in their fight against crime, particularly on New Providence.

On this island, murders have become so frequent that many in the general public barely pay attention to reports of murders anymore, the exception being “unusual” killings like the murders of children and women or that of a young university graduate who seemingly had a bright future ahead of him.

There have been 97 murders in the country for the year. As of Tuesday, the murder count was up 17 percent over last year.

The most recent occurred at Hamster Street and Faith Avenue yesterday morning. The morning before, police reported a murder on Boyd Road.

There are, of course, other serious crimes of concern to police and the public.

Up to Tuesday, police reported that there were 433 armed robberies for the year. In the same period last year, there were 302.

Police say prolific offenders are wreaking havoc on our streets.

On Tuesday, Commissioner of Police Clayton Fernander spoke of the challenge suspects on bail continue to pose.

“We seek them out and put them where they belong,” Fernander said.

“…You’re talking about matters dragged on for two years and three years and within that two, three years, that same individual committing another crime. C’mon, man. Something is wrong with that.”

It was a familiar lament.

While he was commissioner, Ellison Greenslade often spoke of the “revolving door of bail” being a significant contributor to the high level of violent crime in the country.

In 2015, he said, “There are some things that need to be fixed, other than arresting people, other than taking bad people off the streets on a given day… I’m asking that they are not allowed to return to the streets to continue to kill people and to continue to possess guns and travel with drugs.”

The public, too, has long been frustrated by “criminals” being released on bail.

Successive administrations have attempted to address the issue through various means, including amendments to the Bail Act.

Ahead of amendments being made to the act in 2011, then-Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham noted, “A criminal out on bail committing new and often violent crimes is unacceptable. It frustrates the police and mocks the criminal justice system and our way of life.”

This matter is far from simple, and many other jurisdictions continue to grapple with it.

In The Bahamas, presumptions of innocence is a constitutional guarantee.

Article 20 (2) of the constitution guarantees that every person who is charged with a criminal offense “shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved or has pleaded guilty”.

Further, a person “shall, when charged on information in the Supreme Court, have the right to trial by jury”.

The constitution also allows for a judge to hold a person without bail, however, Article 19 protects the rights of those presumed innocent by stating that if a person is not tried “within a reasonable time he shall … be released either unconditionally or upon reasonable conditions … necessary to ensure that he appears at a later date for trial …”

In 2011, the Bail Act was amended significantly to not only outline what judges should consider when granting or denying bail, but that three years from the date of arrest, or detention, to trial is to be considered a reasonable time within which to be tried.

Speedier trials, better trained police investigators and a better resourced prosecution’s office are all critical elements in the process.

Currently, some murder cases are being set down for 2025 due to challenges with judicial resources and other considerations.

Stating that suspects should be outright denied bail is an oversimplification of a very complex subject.

The law is clear. Bail should not be denied as punishment for a crime for which a person has not yet been convicted.

The issue of bail is multidimensional and requires every element of the prosecutorial and judicial system to operate more efficiently, as well as cooperation from the general public to serve as jurors, tip off the authorities to crime, and testify as witnesses – which adds another sticky layer to an already complicated issue.

Reduced crime would also help the judicial system to catch up, but if suspects on bail are indeed committing more crimes, the vicious cycle will only continue.

When it comes to bail and what to do about it, there are just no easy answers.

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