Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Prescott: Cause for a pause

Independent Senator Elton Prescott SC is not satisfied the Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan, has provided “just cause” for the Bail Amendment Bill, which infringes on the rights of the citizen and which breaches the separation of powers principle.

Speaking in the Senate yesterday, at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, Pres­cott said: “Do not be beguiled into thinking that it (the denial of bail) would only affect the known criminal. This is not like that.... It works against everybody, inclu­ding those who are innocently accused of wrong-­doing,” he said.

Prescott pointed un­der the law, someone can buy goods in the open market and someone may be able to claim it is theirs and the person is charged with an offence (receiving stolen property) that is not bailable. 

He said he came to Parliament prepared to be persuaded most of the time and he did not feel there was “just cause” for the bill.

He said Parliament should be wary about the impact of the bill because it affected everybody since it interfered with constitutionally protected liberties. He said Parliament had been slowly chipping away at that liberty for the past 24 years. 

“This is one further blow.... But there might be cause for pause at this stage.... Because there will come a time when it would be too late to turn back,” he said. 

He said Parliament should not pass such legislation if the situation had reached crisis proportions “and that our backs are against the wall with crime”. 

“The irony of it is that almost every month, you can be assured that either the acting Commissioner of Police, the Minister of National Security or some other authority is telling us that serious crime is on the way down, that it is decli­ning. So we have good reason for thinking that our backs are not yet against the wall,” Pres­cott stated.

He said the country would find itself in “an unhappy situation” if the amendment is passed “in the language used”. He said while there must be steps taken to reduce crime,  he felt there was another way, other than the proposed legislation. 

He said the overall purpose of bail was to secure the attendance at tri­al of the person charged. Bail was not intended to deprive the person of his liberty or to determine ahead of time how grave the offence he is charged with is, or even to protect others from him. 

“It is not a concern for the propensity he may have to commit crimes, it is more a concern for his propensity to abscond when he is free,” he said.

Prescott conceded how­ever the country had found itself in a situation where persons who commit violent crimes are inclined, while on bail, to ensure by deviant means there are no witnes­ses against them or employ corrupt means to ensure witnesses do not speak out against them or they place even jurors in fear. 

He said the country may used several tools, once they remain within the confines of the Constitution, to deal with this problem.

He said there were laws that gave the judiciary the power to determine who should and should not have bail. 

“There is another way to bell the cat called crime,” he said, adding he had an amendment to address the situation. 

He said the Attorney Genera had not stated there was a shadow on the judiciary’s ability to make discerning decisions about bail. Yet the bill prevents judges from making a decision on a person’s liberty, he said.

Prescott said according to Section 5, (2) of the Constitution, the Parliament may not deprive a person who has been arrested or detained of the right to be brought promp­tly before a appropriate judicial authority. 

He said Parliament can only do this as a “last resort”, and he said the Attorney General did not persuade him this was “last resort’ and warran­ted the taking away of that right. 

He said the Constitution also stated Parliament may not deprive a person charged with an offence of the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law. 

“The fact that a police officer is of the view that you have committed a criminal offence does not lead to your being presumed guilty,” he added. 

“This law says that from the time you are arrested, you have lost your right to pre tend to be innocent until some time down the road,” he said. 

He stressed data should be presented to Parliament about the length of time between charge and appearance in court. He said there were instances where this time was 17 years, 27 years.

Citing the judgment of Ronnie Boodoosingh on the Central Bank Amendment Act, he said the separation of powers should not be tampered with.