We are here today because enough is enough.
How many times have we heard news of a terrible crime, and mere seconds later, learned that the chief suspect is already charged with a previous crime, and was free to commit this new act of violence because he is out on bail?
How many times? Far too many. Far too many times is the only answer to that question.
We all know that under our nation’s Constitution, every citizen in our country is innocent until proven guilty.
But we also know this:
Too many crimes are committed by individuals who are out on bail despite the fact that we have strong and persuasive evidence that they do not respect our laws, our judicial process, or the judge who imposed the conditions of their bail!
The evidence is this: they have violated one or several conditions under which their bail was granted.
It is these circumstances we are here to address, Madam Speaker.
Judges have discretion over the grant or denial of bail, it is true. But today we are here to require that in cases where the accused has violated one or more of the conditions under which their bail was granted, the revocation of that bail is the automatic and immediate penalty.
You break the rules, you go to jail. No more fines for violations. No more freedom to commit new crimes.
When people show us they cannot follow the rules, it is more than reasonable to infer they pose too great a risk to public safety to be free as they await trial. Their disregard for the judge and for the court means they are too likely to reoffend, or to commit new crimes.
In those cases where there are sufficient mitigating factors, such that the judge determines no such risks exist – and I consider that such cases will be few and far between – the judge still maintains discretion to grant a new application for bail, after due process.
But today, I support the Bail (Amendment) Bill, 2024, in order to insist that the Bahamian people have the right to be safe in their homes and in their neighborhoods, and to require that those who violate the conditions placed upon them in the name of justice are held accountable.
The main objectives of this Bill are straightforward.
First, we are inserting a new section, 9A, which requires those being placed on bail to adhere to certain conditions upon which bail may be granted, and provide for the revocation of bail when those conditions are breached.
When your bail is contingent upon certain conditions and you breach those conditions, then the bail itself is subject to being revoked.
All persons placed on bail will be entered into what’s called a recognisance of bail, which will, in addition to capturing their personal information, clearly lay out the conditions placed on the person being granted bail, so that they are fully aware of what those conditions are.
These conditions represent a standard of conduct that should be expected of anyone placed on bail.
– Showing up to court at the appointed time and not leaving proceedings without permission;
– Not interfering with witnesses; and
– Not committing any offences while placed on bail.
They may also include:
– Reporting to a police station at a specified time;
– Wearing a monitoring device;
– Surrendering passports and other traveling documents; and
– Keeping the peace and being of good behaviour.
As well as any other conditions prescribed by the Chief Justice.
These conditions reflect common sense, and are clearly within the interest of the public good.
Anyone who breaches these conditions should be held accountable.
One of the core principles of the effective administration of justice is that penalties must be sure and swift if they are to be an effective deterrent.
So, if anyone thinks they are going to just duck out of coming to court; commit additional offences; tamper with the monitoring devices placed upon them; or breach the conditions imposed on them in any way, then I have news for them, Madam Speaker:
It’s a new day for justice and accountability in The Bahamas.
This Bill also amends section 12 of the principal Act.
Of note here is the replacement of subsection 4 with new standards, ensuring that — in the interest of swift justice — anyone arrested while on bail will be brought before a Magistrate within 48 hours of their arrest or even sooner, if possible.
The amendments of sections 12A and 12B establish the fact that the breaching of conditions of bail is to be regarded as an offence and that offence should be punishable, upon conviction, Madam Speaker – and let me repeat that so it’s clear for everyone – the offence will be punishable, not when accused, but upon conviction, to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years.
So, in subsection 9A, we see an expectation that no offences are committed while on bail, and section 12 now establishes breaches in bail as an offence. Notably, in establishing these breaches as offences, we are also removing the option of paying fines.
Those who blatantly breach the conditions of their release will no longer have the option of paying a fine and going about their business.
In the interest of public safety, breaching the conditions placed on the granting of bail will be regarded as an offence.
Let’s be clear. We still fully respect the presumption of innocence for the accused, as well as the discretion of judges in the granting of bail. We believe these changes to the law balance our respect for the discretion of the Judiciary with the urgent need to address the violence in our communities.
The fact is, many of the people who kill or who are killed while on bail are often violating the terms of their bail prior to these violent incidents. We have individuals accused of murder who are supposed to have restrictions placed on their movement, traveling to and fro as they please. Such blatant disregard for the conditions placed on them by the courts, as well as their disregard for public safety, should be met with a strong response. No more slaps on the wrist.
Because we all know what often happens when they refuse to comply with the conditions of their bail.
This has nothing to do with the presumption of innocence. Regardless of the crime committed, every one before the courts is still presumed innocent.
Unfortunately, the streets don’t see it that way. A lot of men who have been presumed innocent by our judicial system have broken the conditions of their bail, paid their fine and walked back out freely, only to be executed in the court of street justice.
This senseless cycle of violence, one tragedy after another, has led to too much loss – not just the loss of life, terrible enough, but a loss of faith in our justice system.
Concerns about the proposed amendments are misplaced.
Judges retain full discretion to consider whether the person applying for bail is considered a flight risk, or a danger to the community, or are themselves in danger, in the original decision to grant bail.
There is also the consideration of whether that individual will be tried within a reasonable time.
The discretion of the court in the granting of bail remains.
However, the granting of bail must now include conditions.
Our amendments propose that any breach of those conditions automatically revokes the bail, and can no longer be settled with just the payment of a fine.
The accused may apply again for bail, and it is up to the court to decide whether or not to grant it.
This amendment does not interfere with judicial discretion. Instead, it encourages people placed on bail to observe the conditions rather than just treat them as an inconvenience.
So, for example, the young man who is considering removing his ankle monitoring device must do so with the knowledge that this breach of the condition of his bail will result in his immediate arrest. He will be brought before the courts, and upon being given a fair hearing, if found guilty, his freedom will be restricted.
He will also have to pay the consequences for the offence of breaching the conditions of his bail.
Where before he may have paid a fine – without, potentially, even an interruption of his freedom! — he must now move forward with the understanding that if he breaches the conditions of his bail, his bail will be revoked, he will pay the penalty for that offence, and it is quite likely the judge may not grant him bail again.
Those who are granted bail can no longer take their freedom for granted, and gamble with their lives and the lives of those around them.
Last year, over 40% of murder victims were on bail for murder-related charges.
And they are not the only victims.
Gang violence is putting innocent Bahamians at risk: passengers who ride in their vehicles, children in their homes, family members — even innocent passersby walking or driving have had their lives tragically cut short.
Many times, these incidents of violence occur when the individual granted bail is engaging in activities that are clearly in breach of the conditions of their bail, or they have previously violated these conditions — only to pay a fine and walk the streets as a free man.
Providing more forceful accountability when those breaches occur will reduce the number of bail-related murders.
This amendment is an important step forward to save lives.
But it is far from the only step we are taking to protect our people.
Last week, in this House, I presented Crackdown 2024 – our detailed plan to build safer communities.
Crackdown 2024 is comprised of five pillars.
The first pillar is prevention, which focuses on community development, education, social services, and economic opportunities.
The second pillar is focused on strengthening policing, including increased police presence, as well as investments in training, technology, and data collection, and enhanced regional cooperation against drugs and weapons trafficking.
The third pillar is focused on prosecution, which includes new specialized courts dealing with specific crimes, and better support systems for victims and witnesses.
The fourth pillar is punishment, ensuring that criminals are brought to justice and held accountable with harsh penalties for gang and gun-related offences.
Finally, there is rehabilitation. Because the vast majority of those incarcerated will be returned to our communities, it is in their interest and ours to help them gain the skills they need to reintegrate successfully.
We have emphasized the importance of collaboration and cooperation –collaboration across different branches and agencies of government, and collaboration with the public as well.
As a part of our efforts, we are expanding school policing, placing more specially trained officers in schools to foster positive relationships with students and deescalate conflicts and potential violence.
Our “Clear, Hold, and Build” Policing Strategy is a phased anti-gang strategy that focuses on rooting out gang elements, securing these areas, and then investing in community development to prevent the re-emergence of such elements.
To deter crime in high-risk areas, we are significantly increasing police presence through expanded saturation patrols.
We are introducing advanced facial recognition CCTV systems to assist in monitoring our communities and finding criminals.
Community policing is also a critical part of our data-driven strategy. Strengthening ties between the community and the police can aid in intelligence gathering, conflict de-escalation, and crime prevention.
We are making key investments in communication centers, stronger witness protection and support, more money for our Confidential Informant Fund, and the construction of a National Forensics Laboratory to facilitate swift and effective investigations.
We are also exploring ways we can more aggressively legislate against violent crimes, especially gun crimes, to curtail the levels of violence in our streets.
Our plan calls for immediate investments in the recruitment of more police officers, not only to increase police presence, but to ensure that we have the manpower to effectively police our communities and establish new units like the Anti-Gang Violence Unit to take action against the proliferation of gangs, as well as the Domestic Violence Unit to protect our women.
If we are to succeed in reclaiming our communities, we must effectively address each one of our five pillars.
Violence is robbing our young men and our country of too much potential.
Creating enduring progress will require a nationwide commitment and effort – but this is a fight we must win, to secure a brighter tomorrow for all Bahamians.
What matters now is results.
I fully support the Bail (Amendment) Bill, 2024, as a critical step in the fight to make our communities and our nation safer.
Thank you, Madam Speaker, and may God bless us all.