Independent senators had varying positions on the Bail Amendment Bill.
While some like Helen Drayton “could not find much good reason to support the bill”, others like Subhas Ramkhelawan had some concerns, while their colleagues like David Small, temporary senator Kriyann Singh and Anthony Vieira (for the most part) supported the bill.
Independent Senator Anthony Vieira said a hard-handed approach to crime was needed and drastic action warranted. “If I felt this bill could be abused for political purposes or could be used oppressively against citizens of previous good character, I would not support it,” Vieira stated. He “respectfully disagreed” with those who said the legislation would have the tragic consequence of punishing innocent citizens, denying them their freedom.
He also disagreed (with Senator Elton Prescott) that the sole or primary purpose of bail was to secure the attendance of the accused at court. On the constitutional right to bail, he said there was “just cause” for holding a person who was previously found guilty of a serious offence if the person is charged with another serious offence.
However, Vieira said there must be no attempt to “blur the lines of the separation of powers”. He said once a case is not started within the 120 days that the person is being held without bail, the person should have the right to apply to a judge for bail. And that should be explicitly expressed in the legislation, he said.
Vieira also felt the list of non-bailable offences should be confined to violent crimes and should not include non-violent offences. He said as cast in the schedule, two friends who have gotten into a drunken brawl or the parties involved in a domestic quarrel gone bad could be charged.
“The point is that the proposed classification can apply to offenders who are not predisposed to violent crime and who are really not a threat to society,” he said.
Noting the non-bailable offences, including those under the Children Act, Vieira stated that net would include people who neglect the child by failing to provide food, clothing, medical aid or lodging.
“This can apply to anybody. It is not limited to career criminals,” he said. He added that since the Bail bill also applied to “any offence punishable by imprisonment for a term of ten years or more”, it would include people charged with breaches of the copyright act or people and institutions charged under the Proceeds of Crime Act with failing to disclose knowledge or suspicions that another person is engaged in money laundering (which carries a 15-year term of imprisonment).
“That’s the board and directors,” People’s National Movement Senator Faris Al-Rawi chimed in. “I will have no problem supporting this bill if I am assured that it will be limited to targeting those who have committed and are charged with violent crime and who pose a potential danger to citizens. The bill should be restricted to the VVIP section of crime,” he said.
Helen Drayton warned that many innocent people would end up in jail again unless the bill was amended.
Noting that many of the serious violent offences were already non-bailable, Drayton said the bail could not be an answer for the abysmally low detection rate or the relatively low conviction rate of 39 per cent.
The bill could not be a substitute for solid prosecutorial evidence or for a properly functioning judicial system, all of which had to be improved to have a deep and lasting effect on the rate of crime, she said.
“This bill is not a law to deny bail for four months to someone alleged to have committed a crime within ten years of conviction of another crime. This is a bill which treats all crimes or almost all crimes as the law will treat with those who are charged with murder, kidnapping and terrorism...
“This bill is constructed in such a way that ensures a person who the police has reason to believe committed a crime will stay in the Remand Yard for as long as six to ten years, which is about the time it takes to deal with an indictable case from the time of arrest and charge through to the preliminary enquiry stage and then the High Court,” she said.
She added: “The accused (under this bill) is not being penalised for allegedly committing another crime. The accused is being penalised for the inability of the State to afford him a trial within a reasonable time.”