House passes Bail Act amendments

House passes Bail Act amendments

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Members of Parliament yesterday passed amendments to the Bail Act that would give Magistrates the power to grant bail in certain matters.

The 2016 amendment to the Bail Act, which was passed under the Christie administration, restricted the ability of judges to grant bail in offenses involving assault, stealing, and other previously bailable offenses.

Minister of State for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson, who opened debate on the matter, said the amendment will allow for better regulation of bail application procedures.

Johnson said that while the intention behind the decision to take away the rights from Magistrates was admirable, it created an adverse effect on offenders, who sometimes were denied bail in small matters and may not have had the wherewithal to hire a lawyer or apply for bail in the Supreme Court.

He told a story of a young man who was taken before the courts and plead guilty to an offense for fear of going to prison.

He said the man plead guilty, paid a fine, got a record, and the following day he lost his job.

“What I would suggest to the government even as we do this, there may be special cases, taking every case in the circumstance of which you find them, where we may want to do justice to some of those persons and deal with their records,” Johnson added.

“Some of those persons pleaded guilty to matters that are only expungable after seven years under the Rehabilitation Offenders Act and they are still here and they are still suffering the consequences of what judges determine was an irregular decision to amend the Bail Act and take away the power of magistrates to grant bail.”

Minister of National Security Marvin Dames also insisted that the amendments will seek to improve upon the existing system and provide for the establishment of rules for regulating the procedures for applying for bail.

Dames noted that the government will move to introduce the first biometric Bali Management System technology that manages all bail applications throughout the country.

“In the past, there were many discrepancies with the application of bail processes and to avoid any future issues the system is being introduced,” he said.

“The new biometric technology has a number of capabilities that allow the system to collect, store, track and monitor valuable data in [four] categories”.

It allows suspects to comply with their bail conditions using their photograph and fingerprints recognition.

It has a preventative component that seeks to discontinue the practice of individuals signing bail for more than one person and prevents people from impersonating suspects and signing the registers at the police stations.

The system will also digitally track any breaches of the bail conditions.

The technology will be monitored by a Bahamian based company – Multimedia Technologies –  that will have the ability to track all information in relation to bail, from applications to regular sign-ins, reports and to monitor whether an individual signed for someone previously.

“If any suspect/s do not adhere to the bail conditions set by the Courts, the new system will be prompted to send an alert to the Police, prosecution, and to the suretors,” Dames said.
Over the past five years, an average of 664 people were granted bail by the respective courts.
Within the five-year period, the highest amount was in 2018 when 939 people were granted bail, and 2017 with 809 people.

Amendments to the Juries Act were also passed in Parliament yesterday.