Now that the Bail (Amendment) Act has been approved by the Office of the President, there can be no longer be any excuse for repeat offenders roaming free and remaining a threat to society.
The legislation, which prohibits the freedom of people accused of serious criminal offences for up to 120 days in the first instance, removes the discretion from judicial officers to grant bail to people accused of offences which carry a penalty of 10 years’ in jail.
It has been touted as a critical tool in the crime fight and moved the Opposition, in a rare instance, to support the Government’s measure to enable the Police Service to get an upper hand in a war which has restricted the ordinary movement of so many law-abiding citizens going about their day.
Both Government and the Police Service are eager to put the law into action.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi says the new law will spark “nervousness, panic and worry” in criminals. Police Commissioner Gary Griffith was also eagerly awaiting proclamation. But while both are under pressure to have known crime offenders charged and convicted, we urge the Police Service to exercise caution and arrest individuals strictly on the basis of solid evidence.
This will avoid the embarrassing, illegal and unjust scenario arising out of the 2011 state of emergency, where hundreds of young men were arrested and charged under the Anti-Gang Act, legislation which carried similar draconian measures, only to be released months later because of an absence of any evidence. To add insult to the collapse of the cases, many of the detainees successfully obtained significant paycheques for their illegal detention at the taxpayers’ expense.
Let us also not be naive in believing that denying bail is a surefire guarantee that criminals cannot wreak havoc from behind bars. We know too well the hits have been called from behind prison walls and criminals continue to operate their empires from there.
While the Commissioner has repeatedly claimed the Police Service is aware of identities of hired contract killers, gang members and other criminals who have benefited from bail only to commit more offences, simply locking them away for four months will not solve the spiralling crime wave sweeping the country.
Indeed, for this legislation to really succeed, all segments of the criminal justice system must work in unison. The pool of criminal defence attorneys and resources at the Office of the DPP must be expanded so that the familiar cry of the accused or the State not being ready to proceed when matters are fixed to be heard will no longer apply.
We, however, hope that the Police Service uses this opportunity to rebuild its trust with members of the public, which, in turn, will improve the detection rate and quality of life for all.