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One conviction and no bail for 120 days
One conviction and you’re out—no bail for 120 days. The Government is moving to narrow down repeat offenders’ ability to get bail when they are accused of dangerous and violent crimes, including drug trafficking or sex crimes. Piloting legislation to tighten the Bail Act in Parliament yesterday, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan cited police statistics on several offenders who racked up between 11 and 20 charges over 20-plus years, receiving bail on all charges.
He said: “The criminal justice system is being manipulated by bandits. T&T is engaged in a war against crime. We’ve seen lawless elements encroach even further. Look at the recent murder and robbery in the Sentinel issue—a father close to retirement murdered in cold blood. The most premeditated of robberies: Cement bags used to reinforce the vehicle—the kind of thing you see in movies. “The murderer who rapes a young child in her dying minutes. Don’t tell me that poverty is an excuse! That is a different kind of evil,” he added.
The bill requires a three-fifths majority vote for passage. Ramlogan said Parliament had been slow to react to the crime situation and unresponsive to the cries of frustration from citizens. He said if one gang penetrated a community it became difficult for police to get information, as the gang would be secreted in the bosom of the community. “That’s a reality we must face,” he said.
Saying the bill was an effort to rebalance the scales of justice, Ramlogan said bail legislation over the years had allowed those seeking bail to have three, and later two convictions. Under the proposed amendment, he said this would be narrowed down to one conviction and people with that number would have to wait 120 days to get bail from a judge or magistrate.
Also, if a person was released from jail and got charged for another offence within ten years of the release date, they would be unable to get bail for 120 days. “If you are a repeat offender, we’re saying enough is enough. One strike and you’re out—no bail. We’re not denying bail outright, but they will have to wait 120 days if they’re not clean (of convictions). If you’re clean, the law won’t bite. We must ensure criminals don’t outmanoeuvre the Parliament,” Ramlogan said.
Ramlogan said many accused exploited the opportunity of being out on bail, using it to commit robberies to get funds to hire expensive lawyers or to harass, intimidate or kill witnesses. He detailed cases from police statistics, noting where one person received bail for charges between 1991 and 2011 for offences ranging from robbery to cocaine, marijuana and narcotics possession.
Another involved a similar number of charges from 1988 to 2007 for matters ranging from obtaining goods by false pretences and credit-card fraud to incurring debts, marijuana possession and fraudulent conversion of funds. Ramlogan gave the information to Opposition MPs to see for themselves.
Ramlogan said the former PNM government also recognised the lackadaisical situation and Parliament needed to guide the judicial arm on the issue. He cited examples of how the proposal could cut the perpetration rate by large percentages.
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