1300 prisoners may walk free

Friday, July 22, 2016 - 20:00

Trinidad Guardian: Approximately 1,300 prisoners in remand are now being considered for bail by the State from August 15.

In light of this new development, due to the failure of the Opposition to support the Government’s recent move to extend the Bail Amendment Bill, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday admitted that the release of these prisoners, who are facing charges of kidnapping for ransom, could be a security risk to the country. However, he assured that security forces will be out in full force to deal with whatever comes as a result of this situation.

Al-Rawi broke the news at a press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port-of-Spain, saying the Opposition’s decision to blank the Bail Bill extension means he will now have to make certain amendments to the Bail Act.

He said the judiciary will be put on high alert to deal with the applications which will now come before magistrates and judges for access to bail.

But as Government considers the amendment to the Bail Act, Al-Rawi said they would not approach Parliament since he believed the judiciary process was the key factor.

“So working with the Chief Justice and their team... to get the judiciary ready to hear the applications which will come when the law sets for the bail amendments and for the anti-gang was of immediate priority. I have spoken to the Chief Justice and I have alerted him, obviously he would be aware as to the situation. You also have to deal from a judicial perspective with how judges deal with the issue of bail,” Al-Rawi said.

“On August 15, 2016 we are going to see the sun set on the anti-gang legislation and also the 22 years of amendments which happened on the bail law of Trinidad and Tobago. That means that the statistical appreciation of who will be approaching the court of T&T for release, in some cases immediate release, if they are incarcerated for only anti-gang matters and for access to bail, if it is the situation in which they were denied bail for 120 days or with trials starting within one year of the 120 days.”

He said when August 15 comes, the country will not to be “caught entirely ill-prepared.”

The AG said there are 2,300 individuals incarcerated in remand, of which 1,000 are facing murder charges and not entitled to bail.

“1,300 of them are entitled to be considered for bail. Roughly 650...680 of them have been granted bail, but are still in remand because they cannot access bail because the stricture of bail is too tight.”

To get bail you must have a surety and land, he noted.

“What we are doing is factoring the access to bail for the 600-odd people who are in jail, granted bail, but cannot get out of the system. That is being worked alongside the electronic monitoring capability...the bracelets. Again, that law was passed in 2011 or 2012 and it was not operationalised.”

Al-Rawi said in default of the passage of the law, the Government must prepare a system to process the several hundred applications, which he said is going to be “a big event for the country.”

Al-Rawi said the 600-plus prisoners who were granted bail have been waiting years to be processed. Asked if allowing these prisoners to be released would cause a security concern, Al-Rawi said, “There is a capacity concern and obviously there is a security concern, yes. There would obviously be a concern which can be met by being ready.”

He said the security forces would also have to be ready with an operational surveillance mechanism and Government was prepared to deal with the consequences.

Asked if the judiciary hold off on going on vacation to deal with the granting of bail to the prisoners, Al-Rawi said the magistracy does not have that problem but the High Court will.

No electronic bracelets 

The electronic bracelets to monitor released prisoners, Al-Rawi said, are yet to be purchased and need to be operationalised with a telecommunications network and a security responding team to deal with those try to go beyond the distance stipulated.

Al-Rawi said it would take the Government several months before this system comes on stream.

“It is a mechanism we can use to help the criminal justice system by giving conditional releases for prisoners who are on pre-trial detention who are appropriate for release.”

The AG said while this exercise with the judiciary, Commissioner of Prisons, Commissioner of Police and Director of Public Prosecutions was ongoing and giving assistance, they need more time to appreciate what was going to happen.

“The submission to the country is not only that justice delayed is justice denied...justice delayed is extremely expensive from the taxpayers and family perspective as well, because of the rights of the victim and the rights of the accused. The impacts upon their families must be considered as well.”

Al-Rawi said, however, that T&T was not able to access the effectiveness of anti-gang law because nothing was done in the last five years. He said consultation on the bail legislation was still underway.

Source: www.guardian.co.tt (Shaliza Hassanali)