State can’t cope with deluge of bail-for-murder applications

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AT the end of March, 78 people on murder charges had filed applications for bail, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, said in a recent affidavit for the State supporting an application for a stay at the Privy Council.

In March, the State received final leave to challenge the ruling of the Appeal Court which paved the way for anyone charged with murder to apply for bail, for the first time in over a century.

A previous application for a stay in the local courts had been denied.

On April 4, Gaspard said his office did not have a full complement of staff and of his three deputy directors, he had to assign two to the Port of Spain and San Fernando High Courts to deal with bail applications for murder charges alone.

“I consider this to be necessary since these applications are unique in that as far as I am aware bail has not been applied for or granted to any person charged with murder since I have been in the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Office.”

This strategy, he admitted, has now led to a backlog of matters which “require urgent attention and which cannot be attended to because of the ruling of the Court of Appeal.”

Gaspard said of the 78 bail applications filed up to March 31, some were made orally during case-management conferences before a Master in chambers.

“These applications come as a complete surprise to the prosecution who are unable to attend to assist the court at short notice.

“So far, six applications for bail from persons charged with murder have been heard by the Masters. In one case, that of Joel King, bail was granted.”

On March 25, Master Nalini Singh granted King bail of $1.5 million. She held the State had failed to show why King should remain in custody, and imposed 21 conditions for bail.

King, also called Joel Grimes and Catty, was committed to stand trial for a 2014 murder in Belmont. He is yet to access bail, and the DPP’s Office has since appealed Singh’s ruling. Newsday understands the hearing of the appeal is set for Friday.

In his affidavit, Gaspard said there were no rules that governed the procedure by which an application for bail can be made in Trinidad and Tobago, but said it is considered a matter that should be heard urgently.

He said his office had a close collaborative relationship with the Criminal Records Office (CRO) of the police service, but that department has been unable to provide the information necessary to process bail applications urgently.

He said each bail application, particularly murder, required close attention to detail.

“The Office of the DPP is thus unable to handle these applications on an urgent basis. This position is particularly exacerbated by the absence of jury trials for more than two years. Furthermore, there are ten Criminal Masters.”

Gaspard said deputy DPP George Busby told him Masters have at least two hearings aweek and that some ten-15 matters are listed on each occasion, 50 per cent of which are bail applications from people charged with murder.

“This has characterised proceedings since the ruling of the Court of Appeal in the matter of Akili Charles.”

Gaspard also said the officer in charge of the CRO, Insp Toolah Julien, has said since the ruling in the Charles case, there has been a “deluge” of requests from the DPP’s office which requires “far more extensive provision of information than was formerly the case” for taking the decisions required by the Bail Act.

He said these requests from his office require the police to get information from intelligence agencies, the Forensic Science Centre, the prison service and prospective witnesses. Bail officers must also verify addresses provided by relatives of those applying for bail and ascertain living arrangements.

Gaspard said the CRO’s office, according to Julien, is not equipped, at this time “to deal with this high incidence of requests which are made by the Office of the DPP since there are not enough persons I the department to conduct extensive enquires and field work”

The DPP also said after receiving the list of bail applications, the police must also source information from the prisons, including the behaviour of the applicant while in prison; his medical condition; his warrant records; his involvement, if any, in gang and criminal activities, especially if those activities involve threats to kill or maim prison officers and their families; smuggling contraband; and planning escapes.

He said the deputy Commissioner of Prisons, Sherwin Bruce, told him there is a high incidence of physical threats against prison officers by remanded prisoners charged with murder.

“In these cases, the prison service has adopted the policy of interviewing those officers and to provide any useful information to the state authorities when requests are made for bail.”

Gaspard also said when applications are made, a “heavy burden” was put on the prison service “to do the labour-intensive work” since there are not enough officers available. He also said records on remanded prisoners are stored manually and not digitally, which means prison officers must go through each file when applications are made.

He said, according to Bruce, to effectively produce the information needed for bail hearings, prison officers should be trained or retrained, the staff complement increased and files digitised.

Gaspard said, “I aver that the primary institutions of the State, as they pertain to the hearing of bail applications for persons charged with murder, are unable to effectively cope with the current deluge.”

In February, the Court of Appeal ruled 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. This allowed anyone charged with murder to apply for bail.

The Appeal Court held that portions of the Bail Act which 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 appeal to the Privy Council, the State says the appeal involved the proper interpretation of sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution and were issues of “great general and public importance.”

It also said the matter relates to whether the prohibition to bail for murder was saved law and whether it infringed the separation of powers, the rule of law, the fundamental rights of the accused and was not reasonable justifiable.

“The Court of Appeal decision represents a departure from a previous decision of the Court of Appeal and impacts on several decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council,” the notice of appeal said.

Ten grounds of appeal faulting the Appeal Court’s decision were filed in support of the appeal.


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