Bahamians want action on bail
It would appear that a public spat has erupted between the Minister of National Security Tommy Turnquest and Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett, over the effectiveness of the country’s judicial system.
Last week, Minister Turnquest repeated a statement he made in the past that criminals must be kept behind bars, and said that if judges were elected officials some of them would be run out of town.
Turnquest said that while he has no wish to encroach on the independence of the judicial system, in his opinion some judges have been far too “liberal” when it comes to granting bail to career criminals and those accused of serious offenses — and he believes the police and the public agree with him.
Sir Michael hit back hard. He described Turnquest’s criticisms as unfortunate. “I am always concerned when people attack the judiciary because persons have to be careful in what they say, so as not to undermine the public confidence in those of us who serve in judicial office,” Sir Michael said.
The Chief Justice stressed that judges are independent and do not make decisions based on public sentiment; and are aware of what goes on in society.
Sir Michael makes a good point, and perhaps Minister Turnquest should have chosen his words more carefully, but that does not erase the challenges faced by the judiciary and the impact those challenges are having on the country’s crime problem.
The government and Minister Turnquest should be commended for implementing the electronic monitoring bracelet system, which it is hoped will go a long way in preventing suspects from re-offending.
But it is still hard for Bahamians to understand why so many dangerous criminals are out on bail, mocking our system of justice and terrorizing us in our homes and in our businesses.
Our murder count - now over 100 - would have been lower over the past several years if a number of those out on bail were still in custody.
The country has now recorded four record-breaking murder counts in five years. And we are on pace to far outstrip last year’s record of 94.
The government is expected to unveil changes to the Bail Act when the House of Assembly reconvenes next month.
We hope these changes meet the needs of the country.
We are also eager to hear what Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has to say in his upcoming national address on crime.
In addition to the questions over why so many dangerous criminals are out on bail, there is also still a great deal of confusion surrounding the rulings of the Privy Council and how they have impacted our judicial process.
A ruling by the Privy Council in which it held that it would be cruel and inhumane to execute someone under the sentence of death for more than five years has had unintended consequences, mostly arising from how unprepared our national leadership was to deal with such a momentous ruling.
Bahamians want and deserve a better explanation in terms of the various issues surrounding the matter of bail. But, more importantly, they are demanding action, arising out of fear for their very lives and livelihoods.
Sep 26, 2011