Should Persons Accused Of Murder Get Bail?

bail picIn a preceding article we spoke about Bail in Barbados generally, with particular focus on the Barbadian Bail Act. If you read that article entitled ‘Bail in Barbados- Did You Know?’ you may recall that the Court has a discretion to grant or refuse to grant a person bail and in exercising this discretion the Court may consider certain factors set out by the Bail Act. For some time, Barbadians have been reacting to the Court’s granting of bail to persons accused of certain types of offences. Of particular interest to Barbadians is the Court’s granting of Bail to persons accused of murder. We will therefore briefly discuss whether a person accused of murder should be granted bail.

We realized in the former article that while Magistrates do not have the power to grant bail to persons accused of murder, judges of the High Court have the authority to grant bail to such persons. In Barbados, we have noticed that persons who were on remand for years after being charged with murder, have been granted bail by the Court. This has led to many persons expressing their disapproval with the Court’s decisions to grant  accused persons bail.

Some persons complain that such a decision is unfair to family members of the victim. It is completely understandable that the relatives and friends of the victim would feel some emotion upon hearing that the person charged with the murder of their loved one was granted bail.

There are also persons who disagree with the granting of bail to persons accused of murder because they believe they pose a threat to members of society. There are others, who, because they may not understand what bail is and how it works argue that the accused was released with a slap on the wrist.

Before I refer to the Constitution of Barbados, I must point out that a person accused of murder has not been found guilty of the serious offence; they have only been charged with murder. It is of the greatest importance that we digest this. An accused person has not pleaded guilty neither has he or she been found guilty of the offence for which he or she is charged. Bail should therefore not be seen as a slap on the wrist since it is not a sentence. In fact, time spent on remand awaiting trial may be considered as punishment since, where there is a finding of guilt, the Court treats such time as part of the sentence.

I must also highlight that the fundamental question, among the many questions with which the Court is faced in deciding whether to grant bail, is whether the accused person will appear at Court for the trial of the matter.

Let us turn our attention to section 13 of the Constitution which provides for the right to personal liberty. Subsection 3 is of great significance to the matter at hand. I will set it out in full to avoid butchering the provision.

Any person who is arrested or detained-

(a) for the purpose of bringing him before a court in execution of the order of a court; or

(b) upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed or being about to commit a criminal offence,

and who is not released, shall be brought before a court as soon as is reasonably practicable; and if any person arrested or detained upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed or being about to commit a criminal offence is not tried within a reasonable time, then, without prejudice to any further proceedings which may be brought against him, he shall be released either unconditionally or upon reasonable conditions, including in particular such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears at a later date for trial or for proceedings preliminary to trial.

Therefore, given this Constitutional provision and the provisions contained in the Bail Act, a person accused of murder is entitled to apply for bail and further, has a right to bail if he or she is not tried in a reasonable time. The Court may attach suitable conditions to the bail to ensure that the accused appears at Court for subsequent court hearings or trial.

                                                                                                                                        – Kara-Je Kellman

(You can read the article ‘Bail In Barbados – Did You Know?’ at: https://bealexattorneys.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/bail-in-barbados-did-you-know/)

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Into the Looking Glass: Our Society within the Justice System


bealex boy-looking-in-mirror-f214-22-605Most of us do not ever venture into a Court unless we are a part of the Justice System in Barbados – maybe a lawyer, police officer or probation officer.

While efforts have been made to upgrade the Courts they are essentially functioning under the same physical constraints as they have been for decades.

One still approaches the Court to find people sitting on benches or standing outside the Court until they are ushered in. Some benches now have back rests but some still do not. Perhaps the Courts are intended to be an unwelcoming place because the intention is to make one uncomfortable with the visit.

Who is likely to be there

(I sometimes think however that our infrastructure reflects who we expect to use it, and thus the stark contrast between the van stand and the international airport – but that is merely a random thought. )

The Magistrate’s Court has both a civil jurisdiction of no more than $10,000.00 with some exceptions such as wrongful dismissal and a criminal jurisdiction, thereby seeking to address many of the small but not unimportant issues plaguing the society.

Individuals are often seen at their most desperate and their most vulnerable. Some manage to catch a glimpse of what it is like for those whose existence in our society are predetermined to be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

For every charge or grievance there is a societal issue which has lead to the appearance before the Court. And arguably the appearance marks a failure of the society to deal with that set of circumstances adequately.

The underlying social issues

Assaults might stem from relationships within the community which have soured whether they be relationships between spouses or between friends.

Disputes might occur over maintenance because parents do not understand their parenting role or their understanding might be clouded by anger over the failure of the relationship.

A debt in the past which would have been forgiven between friends becomes a matter for the Court because friends consider themselves wronged somewhere along the line in the friendship – maybe a falling out over a woman.

Then there is the passing parade of those involved in minor criminal activity. Many of them young men under 25 years of age – the future of Barbados. Magistrates offer words of warning, words of reason with the certain knowledge that quite often those who appear before them will appear once again, older, with more serious crimes.

Underpinning all of this is that many of our Citizens have mental problems which just like physical problems will get worse if not treated.  

All of these matters come before the Magistrate who over time comes to recognise the human emotions layered beneath the cold bedrock of the law.

Can the Court adequately address these underlying problems?

The Magistrate’s Court is a good barometer if we wish to examine the struggles of ordinary people. It is clear that some individuals need help. Probation officers are on hand, recourse is made to investigations and reports on the family as well as reports to inform sentencing. There are some rehabilitation and counselling programmes which are available, some run by government and some which are private.

Relatively new tools have been introduced such as the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act Cap. 130A and the Penal System Reform Act Cap. 139 which give the Magistrate more and better options in dealing with those who appear before him.

And yet we have not done enough.

What is to become of the individuals in now forced relationships who have the responsibility of raising children when they have not themselves come to terms with their own problems?

What is to become of the hundreds of boys and young men who appear before the Court on a monthly basis?

Should community disputes however small require the engagement of the full armament of the judicial system?

It is now normal for there to be a public outcry fuelled by social media when there is some tragic event. But the truth is we do not pay very much attention when the symptoms first appear either as individuals or as a society. 

Seeking new solutions

For those who agree that more should be done and that there should be more effective solutions, it will be a daunting task to recalibrate the thinking of the majority to the view that those who appear before the Courts could benefit from earlier interventions and evaluation, monitoring and support after trial.

Since we are no longer our brother’s keeper – let it be said too that weightier interventions and more effective programmes would make the society better for us all.

Lynette Eastmond