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LETTER OF THE DAY - Minister's 'reckless' statement

Published:Tuesday | February 16, 2010 | 12:00 AM


I WAS alarmed at the statement, allegedly made by the minister of national security in yesterday's
lead story headlined: 'Rage over bail'.

As an attorney, I know that many times a decision reached by a court leads right-minded citizens into the temptation of harshly criticising the court. I have experienced similar outrage in the public where bail was granted to five men accused of killing a young man who was a witness in a pending murder case. The court had an officer investigate my assertion in applying for bail, that the so-called ring leader was in the United States at the time he was accused of transporting and helping to kill the witness. Their bail offer, though seemingly an alarming decision, was well supported by the proven fact that the witness was lying when he said the 'ring leader' was present.

The Minister of National Security, Dwight Nelson, is not in a position similar to the right-minded, uninformed citizen I referred to above. He is part of the legislature/executive. Though not an elected representative, the constitution gives the prime minister the power to appoint him to the senate/cabinet. Having been appointed to those organs of the state he is bound to refrain from crossing the line and make reckless statements that bail should "not be granted" for particular offences. Parliament has not yet passed any such law. In the instant case, we are not at all dealing with a case of judicial misconduct, for which our Constitution has laid down very stringent guidelines before a High Court judge can be removed.

The minister ought to be reminded of two principles which make our democracy work. The first is the 'presumption of innocence' and the second being the 'separation of powers'. Applying these cardinal ideals to the minister's outburst, it is alarming that he has found himself in serious breach of them both. In the ranks of both political parties are at present persons, being our parliamentary representatives, accused of dishonesty; however, they have not resigned from being our representatives. They remain there because we must at all times assume their innocence until a competent court determines otherwise. Judges must at all times make their decisions unfettered by any influence direct or indirect from the other arms of the state.

Private hearings

Section 13 of the Gun Court Act, a law passed by our supreme Parliament, makes proceedings such as the bail hearings in the case criticised by the honourable minister, for the most part, private hearings. I assume that the minister was not privy to the matters which no doubt influenced the particular judge to offer bail to three of the accused, while denying the fourth. It is most unfortunate that Mr Nelson sought to cross the line, and made a most unwelcomed, unwarranted and undesirable criticism of a judge's considered decision.

In closing may I remind the minister, who seemed to have assumed guilt on the part of the accused men prior to trial and conviction, of the words of Lord Sankey in the renowned case of
Woolmington v DPP
: "No matter what the charge or where the trial, the principle that the prosecution must prove the guilt of the prisoner is part of the ... law ... and no attempt to whittle it down will be entertained."

I am, etc.,

Bert S. Samuels