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Bail (Amendment) Bill in Senate today
Independent senators up to yesterday evening were preparing for today’s debate on the Bail (Amendment) Bill. At least three said they would decide on how to vote when the call was made. The Government requires the votes of at least four Independents today to secure passage of the bill in the Upper House. Attorney General Anand Ramlogan will present the legislation for debate in the Parliament Chamber, Tower D, Waterfront Complex, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, at 1.30 pm. It seeks to provide for bail be denied to repeat offenders for a four-month period. Ramlogan said the bill was one of the Government’s legislative measures to fight crime.
It was approved in the House of Representatives on Friday with the required three-fifths majority vote. In the Senate the Government has only 16 senators and requires 20 votes from the 31-seat chamber. The six Opposition senators are expected to either abstain or vote against the measure. Independent senator Subhas Ramkhelawan said yesterday he was unsure how his colleagues would vote as each of them would do so according to his individual conscience. He said the Independents were “essentially nine separate republics and when it comes to voting they vote on their own independent basis.”
He said citizens were “very concerned about the scourge of criminal activity and this will be taken into account and will be balanced with the fundamental rights of those charged with committing crimes.” His colleague, Helen Drayton, said she was still in the process of doing her research for presentation in the debate. She said she would also have to await the presentation of Ramlogan, senators and responses and the deliberations in the committee stage (where amendments are made) before deciding on how she would vote. Another Independent senator, David Small, said he was neither in favour or against the bill. “I am not for it, I am not against it,” he said in a brief interview yesterday. Small said something was missing from the package and he was not sure the bill would be able to achieve the desired objective with necessary support measures being in place.
Bill ‘an affront to rights’
In a commentary published today (See Page A23), top constitutional attorney Douglas Mendes, SC, said the bill was “an insidious affront on the rights of the individual to reasonable bail, when charged with a criminal offence, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to have both these rights interfered with only by an independent judicial officer.” He said the legislation violated constitutional rights and there was no doubt there was no justifiable basis for it. Mendes said if the bill was passed in its current form an individual after serving a ten-year sentence, would be liable to be imprisoned for four months immediately on being charged. Mendes explained: “That period can be extended indefinitely as long as some evidence is led before the court during that period.”
He said a person would serve a mandatory minimum additional prison term of four months or longer because of his previous conviction and because a police officer determined that there was sufficient basis for a new charge.