By Exilus Deceyon
Port of Spain, 17 Dec. 05 [AlterPresse] --- Yesterday’s passage of the Bail Amendment Bill says to kidnappers and other criminals that the authorities will hunt them in the same way as “you stalk us,” Attorney General John Jeremie stressed in Parliament.
“It says we will not release you when we find you, and it says we’ve had enough!” Jeremie added as he piloted the bill to eventual passage in the Lower House.
The bill, which required a special majority, received Opposition support after a month of crime talks between the ruling PNM and the UNC.
The bill has been strengthened to deny bail to kidnappers and involves several clauses to ensure protection from abuse of rights while ensuring an accused is held for trial.
It was the first bill in a nine-piece package of legislation which was proposed to the Opposition for passage by Government a month ago. The two parties then held talks at Whitehall. The package is geared to assist the anti-crime fight.
The other bill in the package which requires a special majority is one of three police reform bills. Government and Opposition are continuing talks on this.
Jeremie said dealing with the kidnapping wave and the entire crime situation required an extraordinary effort.
He said the country was gripped by fear of kidnapping and crime and the persistence of this was an affront to everything considered Trinidadian and Tobagonian.
Criminals had put T&T in fear and many innocent people had to pay ransoms. Some kidnappings also resulted in murder. In all, victims have been psychologically scarred, he added.
“Our society has been put to shame, our citizens are traumatised,” he said, adding the situation had implications for T&T internationally.
Jeremie said he didn’t accept that the crime wave was permanent or long term and he subscribed to the view, like the Prime Minister, that the situation was a temporary phenomenon.
To ensure it didn’t become permanent, decisions and strong measures were required , he added.
He said the denial of bail to offenders with prior convictions had worked effectively in California, where it had resulted in a reduced rate in all areas of crime.
The 60-day rule also puts the onus on the prosecutor to “get his house in order,” he added. “And we’re committed to doing this.”
Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday, replying on the UNC’s behalf, said the UNC denied support to the bill when it was first presented by Government last year, since it contained loopholes through which power could be abused, “given the propensity of this government to abuse power.”
He alluded to recent controversies involving Prof Vijay Naraynsingh and the Chief Justice.
“But this isn’t the time or place to discuss this...we leave it for another day,” Panday said
Panday said the latest PNM/UNC crime talks had removed the bill’s potential for abuse of power.
But though the bill would receive the required Opposition support for passage, he said, it might still be struck down by the courts as being unconstitutional.
Panday warned that legislation alone wouldn’t solve crime and that Government shouldn’t hype the bill to the public as a Christmas gift which would stop kidnapping immediately.
The bill would be meaningless without attention to the management and administration of justice, he said adding that improvements are needed in courts for more judges, recording equipment, infrastructure and for night court systems.
Panday expressed concern about one aspect of the bill.
Acting Leader of Government Business Colm Imbert and others on the PNM front bench immediately assured him, “We’ll fix it, we’ll fix it.”
Panday replied approvingly, “How I wish all legislation would come in the month of December.”
And with the Opposition’s support yesterday, Panday said the Government no longer had anyone to blame for crime and accuse of obstructing the bill.
Those charged with certain categories of kidnapping can be held for 60 days before they can apply for bail to a judge in chambers, if they have not been tried.
The three strikes clause: no bail for 60 days for repeat offenders who have two prior convictions for violent crimes and who are charged with a third. If no trial is held after 60 days, they can apply to a judge for bail.
Sunset clause: The act will be effective for the fixed period of a year, but to be continually assessed. If effective, it will be re-enacted after the first year.