Prominent attorney-at-law Christopher Townsend has reacted to comments made by Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Marlene Malahoo Forte, concerning the new Bail Act that is to be tabled, that people charged with certain crimes could be denied bail.
“If what I see as a headline is right, I was of the view that it must have been fake news, that was my initial response,” Townsend said.
“That is like the Pope saying he is going to revamp the Bible…this is something that they have been toying with for a while and the fact that it keeps coming up via the same source, suggests that it is an agenda being held by that administration, and they are not letting it go,” Townsend added.
Speaking in Gordon House on Tuesday, Malahoo Forte said: “I should like to advise the honourable House that a new Bail Act is coming… I will say no more at this stage, except that if yuh on murder charge, you cannot be at large, and if yuh on gun charge, yuh cannot be at large.”
Speaking to Loop News on Wednesday, Townsend suggested that the move could be a dangerous constitutional overreach by the present administration.
“They are not letting it go. From where I sit, that is a weapon of mass destruction because if you do that, you will be arming the other party with a powerful weapon and opening the door to trample on people’s rights, and the right to bail is an exceptional right that is being whittled away slowly. This is a huge overreach, leave the judges alone, allow them to do their job, you don’t need to do it for them,” a passionate Townsend said.
Queen’s Counsel Peter Champagnie believes that Malahoo Forte’s move “does violence to our Charter of Rights”.
“Any idea or notion to restrict the discretion of a judge in the granting of bail in murder or gun cases is ill-advised. Firstly, it does violence to our Charter of Rights that is enshrined in our Constitution where there is a right to bail. Secondly, it comes dangerously close to infringing on the separation of powers doctrine, which acknowledges the independence of the judiciary as a separate arm of government,” Champagnie said.
Townsend said that judges are not instruments of the State and should not rubber-stamp a policy position promulgated by a political administration.
“The judges are there to infuse the human element into the justice system, so it is not just some stoic entity of government, it is human-based, and that’s why judges are there. They are not there to rubber-stamp but to put the human element into the system so that justice and balance can be achieved for the individual,” Townsend said.
Earlier Tuesday, during a press conference, the police disclosed that at least three people identified as “persons of interest” in recent murders were individuals on bail.
The police have long called for amendments to the Bail Act to address this matter. However, Champagnie challenged the police’s portrait of routine recidivism by individuals on bail for gun crimes.
“Where is the empirical evidence that the majority or even a significant number of persons who are granted bail re-offend? Caution must also be given to the fact that in other jurisdictions within the region, the unconditional denial of bail for persons charged with murder has been held to be unlawful,” Champagnie said.
A joint select committee of the Parliament has been reviewing the Bail Act and Malahoo Forte had signalled, for some time, that a Bill was to be tabled soon.
— Claude Mills