More people would be able to access bail and trials would be faster, as the Government moves to ease up the bottlenecks in the criminal justice system.
Legislation aimed at reducing prison overcrowding by making bail securable by cash payment as well as legislation to speed up trials by abolishing preliminary enquiries were approved by Cabinet yesterday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi announced at yesterday's post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's.
He said the bills would be put on the Parliament agenda.
Bail by cash
“There is an allegation and a statement that there is almost an underground element to the manner in which bail is procured. There is the phenomenon of what people refer to as professional bailors because the magistracy has sought to opt to one version of bail only, that is the production of a deed of property.
“And most people who find themselves incarcerated are in there because they simply just don't own property and don't have access to deeds and therefore it is almost an impossibility for certain people to access bail,” Al-Rawi said.
The Attorney General said sometimes the bail amount is $30,000 or $50,000 or $17,000 but this is taken “on the back of a deed”.
“What this [Access to Bail Amendment bill] allows is for the placement of cash or certified cheques into the judicial system,” he said, adding that facilities would also be put in place at the prisons themselves to access bail under the new system every day except Sundays and public holidays.
The Attorney General said the allegation was that the State and conditions of the nation's prisons adversely affected the chances of a person (in there pending trial) coming out a better person and therefore the recidivism was very real. He said of the 2,242 prisoner currently in Remand Yard, 1,000 were there for non-bailable offence. Of the 1,242 remaining prisoners, nearly half had been granted bail by the courts but could not access bail,he said.
He said the Indictable Offences pre-trial bill will deal with the “messy situation” whereby cases meander through the judicial system for years on end.
Al-Rawi cited the preliminary enquiry on the cases arising out of the Piarco Airport enquiry, which has been going for 17 years. He said if the magistrate decides there is a case, the matter would then go to the High Court, Court of Appeal and Privy Council. But the lawyers could still go for judicial review (of the magistrate's decision) before this happens.
“What we propose and what is contained in this bill is that you completely abolish preliminary enquiries and allow the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to decide whether a matter is to be heard summarily or indictably,” he said.
“There is no more ground for considering whether this is sufficient evidence to go forward because the DPP would consider the sufficiency of evidence, and then the matter would go to the court for consideration,” the Attorney General said. He said this is a very important bill to deal with the delays in the criminal justice system. “There has be a closing of the gap between charge and conviction,” he stated.
Noting plea-bargaining had a very poor record in Trinidad and Tobago, the Attorney General said the Criminal Procedure Pre-discussion and Pre-procedure bill would repeal and replace the existing law passed in 1999.
He said the plea-bargaining system is supposed to obviate the need for have an actual trial. However, under the existing law, only 12 cases have resulted in plea-bargaining to date.
Noting 95 per cent of cases in other jurisdictions do not go to trial, he said legislation to make the system of plea-bargaining more effective would have “dynamic consequences”.