Now that the bail bill has died in the Parliament (it expires on August 15) it is important for us to understand the principles that led to the Opposition’s decision to vote against the bill on Friday.
I expect the PNM to suggest that the UNC Opposition could not be serious about fighting crime and that we voted against the very bill we passed one year ago.
Attorney General Faris Al Rawi piloted the bill Friday noting that 1,326 people now awaiting trials in prison would become eligible for bail after August 15. The bill had provided automatic denial of bail for 120 days for people charged with a variety of crimes.
Let us be clear that none of the people who were denied bail would automatically be granted bail; it also doesn’t mean that all or any of them will get bail.
Each case would have to go before the courts for a bail application and bail would be granted or denied on the basis of the particular circumstances. So there is no fear that suddenly hundreds of people facing charges of various kinds would be roaming the streets.
My government had inserted the sunset clause in the bill to ensure that within a year a serious assessment would be done on the bill.
We were not convinced that the Rowley government did any assessment; when they realised that the deadline was fast approaching for the bill to die they just brought back the bill in its original form. That kind of shoddy approach is not what we expect from a government.
The Opposition requested and failed to get from the Rowley Government data regarding the efficacy of the laws in regard to the fight against crime. The Government said they didn’t have time to do it.
As a serious Opposition we could not accept that. They had ten months and they did nothing. In today’s world of technology, that kind of work can be done if you know what to do. They did not have the political will to do it because it was much easier to just lay the original bill that they had opposed, hoping to get our approval easily.
But that’s not how we do business; we listen, then we lead. Many persons including the media, community leaders and lawyers of the highest order, have spoken out about the need to conduct a thorough examination of the laws and their effect. There were serious concerns about violation of people’s rights.
I wish to note comments made by Mr. Roger Gaspard, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which would add credence to our decision not to support the bill.
“I am saying categorically that to have persons in Remand Yard who are presumed innocent and who have to wait inordinately long periods of time for a trial cannot be justified in any society, which has a reasonable respect for the rights of freedom of individuals.”
Mr. Gaspard added that no self-respecting DPP would press charges on people after they were kept in remand for greater periods than their sentence was likely to be.
The Opposition had hoped for a thorough examination of the issues during the debate, and we made that point to the Attorney General at the meeting between the Opposition and Government on Wednesday. That did not happen.
Instead of addressing our request for reliable data the government relied on statements made in past debates and affidavit evidence from a court case.
Simply put the Rowley Government and Attorney General Faris Al Rawi were completely deficient in their performance in handling the bail amendments.
Their irresponsibility has led to the result of the Opposition and the greater society losing confidence in their performance.
The amendments do not expire until August 15, 2016 and there is still time for the Rowley Government to do the hard work, which needs to be done – consult the people, present the data and a rational plan and amend the laws as necessary.