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Amendments to the Bail (Amendment) Bill 2013 were passed in the House of Representatives yesterday after it received full support from the 27 MPs on the government benches, while the Opposition People’s National Movement’s 12 members voted against it. Speaker of the House Wade Mark declared that amendments four, five and six were approved by a constitutional majority.
During the debate, MP for Diego Martin North/East Colm Imbert said the Government was declaring judges to be incompetent and incapable of determining whether a person had a right to bail, describing the various “strikes” system against repeat offenders as a “multi-tiered regime.” “When one looks at what the Government is doing, the Government has taken sort of a sledgehammer approach to the question of judicial discretion,” Imbert said.
“What this Parliament is attempting to do today is usurp the role of the judiciary.” He spoke directly to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, who introduced the bill in November 2013, saying what would end up happening was that someone would file a motion on the grounds that the bill infringes on the separation of powers. Ramlogan disputed Imbert’s assertion about the Parliament infringing on the judiciary.
“This bill in no way can it be interpreted, misinterpreted, represented or misrepresented as an attack against the judiciary,” Ramlogan said. Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner left the chamber before the vote.
• The three strikes provision was removed, as at least two prior convictions for certain dangerous offences would mean bail was permanently denied.
• The category of criminal offences was expanded for the existing one- and two-strike policy, including offences under the Firearm Act, Larceny Act, Dangerous Drugs Act, Trafficking in Persons Act, Malicious Damage Act, Sexual Offences Act, and the Children Act. These offences attract a penalty of a ten-year sentence or more.
• Anti-Gang Act offences were removed from schedule of offences for the bill, as the Anti-Gang Act already denied bail to gang members and gang leaders for up to 120 days. A conviction recorded under the act counted as a strike for the purpose of the bill.
• Any convictions before the bill became law counted as a strike, and there was no “reset” button, according to Ramlogan.
• If the prosecution starts its case within 120 days, and it does not finish within a year, the defendant has right to apply for bail. Within that year, the defendant must remain incarcerated. Ramlogan described this provision as a “double-edged sword” as it allowed prosecution to target the more dangerous and violent criminals, and fast-track certain trials.
• Criminal deportees brought back to T&T will have their previous convictions in foreign jurisdictions counted as a strike.
• In the case of a person with multiple matters pending but no convictions, upon conviction in one matter, the court was mandated to review the grant of bail, taking into consideration all the other outstanding matters.
• The legislation will expire on August 15, 2016.