The controversial Bail Bill was successfully passed in the Senate last night and it’s now heading to the House of Representatives.
The government secured passage of the bill—with an amendment—with support from the majority of independent senators.
However, the opposition and two independent senators abstained from voting.
The bill denies bail for 120 days first-time offenders held with firearms as well as any prohibited weapons—from automatic weapons to bombs, grenades and missiles. It also limits bail for that period for those accused of trafficking in such weapons.
An accused person will be able to apply for bail after 120 days but will have to prove there are exceptional circumstances that warrant granting of bail.
“This bill, as well as the other Bail bill passed in August and the Firearms Bill, are the most important we’ve done—this is where we draw the line in the sand in the war against crime,” Attorney General Faris Al Rawi told the Guardian after the bill’s passage at 6.44 pm.
Passage of the bill which was secured via a three-fifths majority vote occurred in enough time for it to be announced - triumphantly- at the start of last night’s PNM meeting in Chaguanas.
The bill was passed by a total of 22 votes; from 15 government senators plus support from seven of the nine independent senators present.
However Independent Senators Paul Richards and Anthony Vieira abstained from voting while seven other independents voted for it.
Also abstaining were the six opposition senators present. No one voted against the bill.
Al Rawi steered the bill through difficult straits in the Senate since last Tuesday, concluded the debate yesterday and took the bill through its final committee stages. He battled with repeated concerns on the bill from opposition and some independent senators, particularly on possible potential for people to be “framed” or set up and be denied bail for 120 days.
Viera and Richards voiced concerns, called for some assurances and added that they wanted to support the bill strongly. Richards said he was “dying to support the bill” and only wished to balance people’s rights.
Al Rawi told them that the prime minister instructed him to examine legislation to deal with “frame-ups” and similar situations. He announced he would soon present legislation to introduce a criminal charge regarding the framing of a person done by police or any law enforcement official.
Meanwhile, the Bail Bill would be sent to the House of Representatives for debate likely by next week Friday, Al Rawi added.
Senior police officials last night expressed relief and happiness to Trinidad Guardian that their calls on the bail bill were heeded. They said it would assist their “armoury” in the crime battle.