THE OFFICE of the Attorney General says Thursday’s ruling by the Privy Council, which dismissed its appeal of the Appeal Court’s decision, was significant to the issue of bail for those charged with serious offences.
On Thursday, the Privy Council upheld the landmark ruling of the Court of Appeal in February, which led to the first successful bail application by a murder accused in more than a century in TT in March.
The Privy Council agreed with the finding of the Appeal Court that Section 5(1) of the Bail Act of 1994, which previously precluded judicial officers from considering bail for those accused of murder, was unconstitutional and was not saved law.
It held that portions of the Bail Act that restricted anyone from applying for bail for murder were not reasonably justifiable in a society concerned about the rights and freedoms of the individual.
In its statement, the Office of the AG said it was in the process of working out a comprehensive system of bail reform “with the focus being to encompass legislation that will secure the rights of all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and, to take into account the views of key stakeholders and experts, including criminologists, in order to ensure properly drafted legislation formed from the foundation of a socio-psychological and criminological basis.”
In a statement, the Office of the AG said the bail issue was canvassed in Parliament earlier this month, and Thursday’s ruling now provides a “judicial determination of the discretion of our courts to the grant of bail for this country’s most grievous offence of murder.”
The statement reminded of the undertaking by AG Reginald Armour, SC, during the Senate debate on the bail-amendment debate on July 6, to approach the Cabinet and Parliament with “comprehensive legislative bail reform.”
The statement said bail systems and laws secure not only the attendance of accused persons for their matters before the courts but also simultaneously work alongside other crime-fighting initiatives, among other things, to secure the safety of individual witnesses, the community and society as a whole from the threat of dangerous people and repeat offenders.
“It is significant that whilst not accepting as lawful a blanket denial of bail for the offence of murder the ruling, nevertheless, accepts that instead of removing the court’s discretion altogether, legislation could in fact be implemented to impose conditions on the exercise of the court’s discretion to grant bail or where a stricter approach is required, ‘sufficient cause’ could be shown.”
The statement said this was the approach taken by the Government when it sought to extend the 2019 Bail (Amendment) Act, which expires at the end of August. The statement said the 2019 act provided for bail to be denied in certain specified instances while maintaining the court’s discretion to grant bail in “exceptional circumstances”.
“The Government is committed to the rule of law and to uphold individual constitutional rights, whilst appropriately balancing the overarching interest of keeping members of our society secure in their homes and in going about their livelihood.
The statement said Thursday’s ruling highlighted and accepted further some fundamental considerations previously espoused by the Government on the issue of bail, including the aim of the legislation and parliamentary sovereignty to pass laws regarding the importance of the public interest.
It also said the ruling acknowledged that the separation of powers was not a principle which can provide an independent basis for the invalidation of legislation.