Challenges to bill will only strengthen it, says Bannister

Challenges to bill will only strengthen it, says Bannister
Minister of Works Desmond Bannister speaking to members of the press outside Cabinet.

Works Minister Desmond Bannister said he “welcomes challenges” to the Criminal Evidence Witness Anonymity Bill as “opposition” will only make the legislation “stronger”.

In an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News on Sunday, Bannister said, if the bill is found unconstitutional by the courts, the Minnis administration will “try and try again” to ensure that witnesses are protected.

Last week, after the bill was passed in the House of Assembly (HOA), Wayne Mnroe, QC, called parliamentarians “dumb or dangerous” saying, the bill will almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional by the courts.

“Now if the courts determine that it is not constitutional, with respect to jury trials, we are going to try something else, and we are going to keep trying until we find the right formula to make a difference for witnesses in our courts,” Bannister said.

“That is what is important. So, the democratic process strengthens legislation. If some lawyer comes and says he is going to challenge it, it is good for the law-making process. It is good for democracy in our culture.

“We welcome it as a government because, it helps make better laws because, when a law is struck down, you look at other laws and you find how to strengthen it.”

Bannister, who led debate on the amendments said, something has to be done to protect witness in the country, who he admitted are often hurt and sometimes killed to prevent them from testifying.

“We are a transparent government,” he said.

“I stood up in the HOA and I said, some lawyers may challenge a particular provision and we are a democratic society and that is our right. But also, we are a government that has to look at issues that impact people. And if someone is affected by crime, we have to find every possible avenue to have them build up the courage and give evidence. That is what we have done with this bill.”

The amendments affect section 11 (4) of the act “so that the prosecutor or the defendant may apply to the judge to permit a witness to be seen and heard in his natural voice by a magistrate, magistrate’s panel or by the judge, but not by the prosecutor, the defendant or his attorney, or by the jury”.

Noted criminal attorney Romona Farquharson-Seymour is among the group of lawyers speaking out against the bill, which was passed in the HOA earlier this week, and is on its way to the Senate for debate.

“Everyone has a right to a fair hearing,” Farquharson-Seymour said.

“Those who practice at the criminal bar, this is something that we are faced with. We were considering mounting a challenge – a constitutional motion is being discussed – and perhaps take it as far as the privy council because this is wrong.”

Farquharson-Seymour explained that there is great danger when one does not know who is accusing them of committing a crime.