Proposed bail law feared by rights defenders to be tabled in September
A new bail act that the Holness administration is pursuing because "if you on murder charge you cannot be at large" is expected to be tabled in the Parliament in September.
Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte says work is far advanced on the third draft of the proposed legislation.
A new round of debate over the government's anti-crime push and respect for constitutional rights started in June when the minister announced what some of the provisions may address.
"If you on murder charge you cannot be at large, and if you on gun charge you cannot be at large," Malahoo Forte said in House of Representatives during her Sectoral Debate presentation.
At the time she said the wording of the clauses was being revised.
On July 8, she told the state's news agency, Jamaica Information Service, that the work on the legislation was progressing and she was excited about the process.
“It will look at the power to grant bail, the reasonable conditions on which bail will be granted, what amounts to sufficient cause for keeping someone in custody, and it will provide a good menu of the things to be considered by the court,” she said.
The law is also expected to clarify the processes for review and appeal as well as to look at timelines within which actions are to be taken.
"We are also moving to put prescribed forms in place to ensure that all matters that have to be communicated will be communicated in a standard prescribed form,” the minister said.
She also noted that “there are new features to the law, in addition to localising it and taking into account the matters that we have been documenting and collecting data on within the Jamaican context. The law really honours the principles that the courts have been given much guidance on and looks at what it is that bail is intended to do in a balanced way”.
Malahoo Forte said she is looking forward to the completion of the process.
“If I must say so myself, I am quite excited, because great care is required in preparing law. The policy behind the law must be very clear and what is drafted in the law must be equally clear to capture the policy intent in the legislation,” she noted.
Under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in the Jamaican Constitution, any person awaiting trial and detained in custody "shall be entitled to bail on reasonable conditions unless sufficient cause is shown for keeping him in custody".
The Opposition People's National Party and the Cornwall Bar Association have been some of the major voices warning the Holness administration against restricting the discretion of judges in granting bail. The police have been pushing for the changes.
The change would satisfy members of the security forces who have complained about the role of accused criminals on bail being key perpetrators of crimes.
The United Kingdom Privy Council is also to rule soon on the constitutionality of a law in Trinidad and Tobago that blocks bail for persons charged with murder.
The decision that could have implications for the proposed reform of the bail regime in Jamaica.
The Privy Council is Jamaica's final appellate court.
Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with almost 50 per 100,000 of the population killed yearly.
- JIS contributed to this story.
Follow The Gleaner on Twitter and Instagram @JamaicaGleaner and on Facebook @GleanerJamaica. Send us a message on WhatsApp at 1-876-499-0169 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com