FORMER attorney general Anand Ramlogan, SC, who led the case for Akili Charles, says the challenge was never about “freeing criminals,” but that anyone has a right to apply for bail and have the court consider their application on its merits.
Charles is a former murder accused whose challenge of the constitutionality of the Bail Act of 1994, led to the Appeal Court ruling in February that anyone charged with murder, has the right to apply for bail. This ruling was upheld by the Privy Council on Thursday.
Contacted for comment after the Privy Council’s ruling, Ramlogan said, “For over a century, people charged with murder did not have the right to apply for bail.
“The Privy Council has confirmed that it is illegal for Parliament to deny people this fundamental right.
“Parliament should never have the right to deprive a man or woman of his or her liberty – this is a matter for the courts. Freedom is a sacred and precious right that can only be taken away by a court of law after a fair hearing.”
Ramlogan said no court should grant bail to anyone who poses a threat to society, but equally, people who do not (pose such a threat) should not have to languish and suffer oppressive, sub-human prison conditions awaiting trial for years or even decades.
In a separate statement, also on Thursday, UNC senator Jayanti Lutchmedial said the Privy Council’s decision vindicated the Opposition’s position articulated in the debate on the recent Bail (Amendment) Bill 2022.
She said, “In their attempt to camouflage their continued failure to address crime, the PNM attempted to extend the life of a 2019 provision which placed restrictions on a right to apply for bail, despite knowing such a measure in relation to murder, was struck down by the Court of Appeal and was being deliberated on by the Privy Council.”
As a responsible Opposition, aware of the implications of the Charles decision for evolving local jurisprudence, she said, the UNC urged government to focus its crime-fighting methods “on practical and effective implementation of mechanisms to raise the detection rate and ensure people arrested are brought to justice speedily and, if convicted, subjected to suitable punishment as determined by a court.”
Lutchmedial, an attorney, said that Government’s focus was on pre-trial detention with no regard to the presumption of innocence. This, she said, was “to fool the population” into thinking that trampling on people’s rights would somehow keep them safe.
“They have focused on cheap rhetoric and public relations, using the Akili Charles case to attack the Opposition based on Mr Charles’ legal team (led by a former UNC attorney general) all the while allowing crime to spiral out of control.”
She said the Opposition leader, before and during the debate on the 2022 bill amendment, “was adamant that the Opposition could not support a legislative measure that the Court of Appeal ruled violated the separation-of-powers doctrine and was not reasonably justifiable.”
BAD LAW PREVENTED
She accused the Government of ridiculing the Opposition.
“Today, the population can be comforted to know that the UNC’s strength and conviction prevented a bad law, which would have been struck down, from being passed.”
She said the UNC had saved the taxpayers the burden of additional legal fees, damages and millions more in costs “by understanding the learning coming out of ground-breaking cases” and insisting laws passed in Parliament are good and can withstand judicial scrutiny.
“The judgement handed down by the Privy Council is a significant development in the law of human rights and how the State must balance the objectives of a law against the fights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.”
She said the Government should have refocused its crime-fighting efforts, but instead, “wasted resources to lose another matter in the Privy Council, while CCTV cameras are not repaired, basic goods and services are not available to the officers at the TTPS;
“The use of forensic science to solve crime is hampered by a massive backlog at the Forensics Sciences Centre and the Director of Public Prosecution’s office is woefully understaffed.”
She said now someone accused of a crime could approach the court for bail and the prosecution could argue against it according to facts and circumstances, “not some sweeping dictate handed down by the Parliament.”