Thursday, October 27, 2011

The public is fed up ...In cases where bail can be given, they want it given ...Of course, with the amended bail act magistrates can no longer grant bail in serious cases, such as murder, armed robbery, rape, attempted rape and the various offences involving firearms

Magistrates starting to open their eyes

tribune242 editorial

AT LAST, public exasperation at the lenient manner in which cases are handled -- especially for accused with well established criminal records -- is getting through to the magistrates.

In the delay of the trial of two men and a woman charged in a major gun and ammunition seizure case yesterday, the magistrate told the prosecution to make certain that defence lawyers were given all relevant statements. She then set a date for trial and warned defence counsel to be prepared to go ahead on that date so as not to waste the court's time. Also, she did not want the public to be given a negative impression of justice in the court system.

Unfortunately, the public already has that negative impression. It is now up to the courts to dispel it, not only by efficiently handling cases, but by more frequent denial of bail.

The public's criticism does not just rest with the magistrates. What many of our letter writers say about some defence lawyers is unprintable.

Bahamians know that many of the court delays are from the Outer Bar, and the pleading for leniency for hardened criminals comes from the mouths of many of those pleading attorneys.

The public is fed up. In cases where bail can be given, they want it given. Of course, with the amended bail act magistrates can no longer grant bail in serious cases, such as murder, armed robbery, rape, attempted rape and the various offences involving firearms.

In these cases, magistrates have to take into consideration the need to protect the safety of the public and public order. The need to protect the safety of the victim of the offence and the nature and seriousness of the offence and the nature and strength of the evidence against the defendant.

Another -- and it appears recent -- element that seems to be slipping into our court system is a defendant's attempt to select his judge.

Last week, the Appeal's Court turned down such an appeal calling it "forum shopping".

Accused of drug conspiracy, the defendant tried to get his case moved from the court of Deputy Chief Magistrate Carolita Bethel, by claiming bias.

The higher court found no bias against him on the part of the magistrate, but did find an attempt by him to "forum shop". This is something that has to be stopped in its tracks before it gets out of hand.

In his contribution to the House debate on the crime bills, Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell challenged government to live up to its promise of reducing crime through criminal justice legislation.

However, when it came to the witness protection bill, Mr Mitchell complained that it was unconstitutional to deny the accused the right to know his accuser.

It would seem that Mr Mitchell not only wants his cake, but he wants to eat it too. Prime Minister Ingraham described what would happen to our judicial system if essential witnesses were not protected.

Last week, the cruel death of a man -- a case of mistaken identity -- should have sealed Mr Mitchell's lips forever on the issue of witness protection.

The dead man was a case of mistaken identity. The bullet was intended for a witness in a murder case. This was the second time that his assailants had missed him. He is now in the witness protection programme.

In the House, Mr Ingraham explained the need for such protection.

"It is the duty of every citizen," he said, "to report the commission of a crime, to cooperate with the police, to give evidence in court if they are called upon to do so, to assist the police in the execution of their duties and to go to the Supreme Court to serve as a juror.

"In order for a citizen to carry out that duty the citizen must feel safe, must feel and indeed know that they are going to be safe not going to be intimidated, not going to be hanged, that their family are going to be safe, and unmolested because they are simply doing their civic duty.

"Whenever that can't happen, the citizen is not inclined to cooperate, is unwilling to cooperate; if he's unwilling to cooperate we are unable to have prosecutions, we have a state that cannot enforce its laws and protect its citizens from criminal activity."

We recall the outcry when airline passengers resented being searched before boarding an aircraft -- it was unconstitutional and demeaning many said.

Today when faced with either giving up that constitutional right or being blown to smithereens, they stand in long lines, meekly taking off their belts and shoes, emptying their pockets and taking their turn walking through a metal detector. In choosing between their constitutional right and their life, they chose Life.

Today, that is what Bahamians will have to accept with the witness protection programme. In some instances, accused persons will have to give up their right to know the person giving evidence against them, in return for the witness's evidence and to make if possible for government to grant Mr Mitchell and all Bahamians' wish to reduce crime through the criminal justice system.

October 25, 2011

tribune242 editorial