Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and two Independent senators cited the “fear factor” as a probable reason why some magistrates and judges consistently granted bail to seasoned criminals and habitual offenders.
Speaking in the Senate yesterday during the Committee stage of the Bail Amendment Bill—which was later passed—Ramlogan justified the need to remove judicial discretion and replace it with the no-bail provision for “serious, dangerous and violent” crimes.
The Attorney General said under the existing law, judges were required to consider a number of things, including the nature of the offence and the seriousness of the offence, in granting or not granting bail.
“Yet you have a set of bad boys outside there and the nature of offence is robbery with violence, car-stealing, arson, they burning down people, all these serious offences and they out on bail.”
Quoting statements made by former La Brea MP Hedwidge Bereaux, that there was a fear factor behind the fact that people were getting bail too easily, Ramlogan said: “People are not seeing it but there was an invisible fear factor that permeates every single institution, every single home and every single person in this country. Let us be frank about it. Judges and magistrates are not immune to fear. You think when they go home, they don’t worry about their wife and children? You think when they granting bail to a bandit, they don’t have to consider in their minds the fear factor? It may not even be a conscious consideration. But I think what former MP Bereaux was alluding to is that the thing (fear) has permeated the subconscious of our society, to the point where you are subconsciously influenced by the fear factor in making decisions.”
The Attorney General said this applied not only to judges and magistrates, but most likely applied across the board in the country.
Ramlogan was at the time responding to Independent Senator Elton Prescott, who had stated that it would be “collective shame if Parliament brushes aside” the judicial discretion.
Prescott had suggested an amendment which would require judges to consider certain circumstances in granting bail. But the Attorney General said most of those circumstances already exist in the current law.
“So all of the list that my learned friend, Senator Prescott, is proposing might be relevant, but it is already covered in the existing law, which puts an expansive and wide ambit of things for the judicial officer to consider (in hearing a bail application). In addition, there is an injunction for the judicial officer to consider any other factor that he thinks relevant,” said the AG.
Independent Senator Dhanayshar Mahabir said the Attorney General raised the issue that accused individuals were granted bail in instances where when one looked at the strictures outlined, the judicial officer should not have granted bail.
“There are perhaps legitimate reasons of fear where the magistrate or judge granted bail despite the fact that the law was very clear,” Mahabir said.
He suggested that in instances where a judge grants bail after the 120-day period (of no bail), the Director of Public Prosecutions should have the power to appeal the judge’s decision if he thinks the judge erred or violated the law.
He said if the DPP can challenge the judge’s decision, then the Parliament would be respecting the separation of power and the interest of the community and the police would also be upheld.
Independent Senator Anthony Vieira said he understood recidivism and he understood the fear factor.
“I was a prosecutor some years ago, in another jurisdiction. And when you are prosecuting drug traffickers, you do feel apprehensive. And I could see people sometimes taking a lighter touch. All of these are realities and for those reasons I am prepared to say ‘hold the guy for 120 days’.”
Vieira said, however, after that period it would be unconstitutional to pre-empt the court from considering the possibility of bail, taking into account all the criteria set out in the existing law for the granting of bail.