Bail bill defeated as Independents side with Opposition senators

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Attorney General Reginald Armour who piloted the Bail (Amendment) (Extension of Duration) Bill 2022 in the Senate on Monday. (FILE PHOTO) – ROGER JACOB

FIVE Independent senators voted with the six Opposition members in the Senate on Wednesday to block passage of the Bail (Amendment) (Extension of Duration) Bill 2022.

The bill required a three-fifths majority for it to be passed. The government’s 18 senators voted for the bill and there was an abstention by an Independent senator.

Government was seeking to extend the life of the law for one year as the three-year sunset clause expires on August 4. The law was assented to on August 5, 2019 and allowed magistrates and judges to deny bail, for 120 days, to people charged with specific offences under the Firearms Act, the Anti-Gang Act, the Sexual Offences Act, the Dangerous Drugs Act, the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Trafficking in Persons Act. To be so treated, such individuals would have had to be previously convicted of a serious crime.

Debate on the bill started on Monday and continued on Wednesday.

Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, argued, during his contribution on Monday, that failure to extend the life of the legislation would place citizens at risk.

“We cannot risk rolling ourselves back to a pre-2019 criminal justification basis to allow convicted criminals to roam the streets while they are being charged and before the courts on similar offences and continue to pose a risk to our young women, our children, our vulnerable, our elderly and our right to walk our streets safely.”

Responding to concerns raised by Opposition senators over a possible breach of citizens’ rights by extending the legislation, Armour said the motion to extend the legislation for one more year was an example of the government’s commitment to crime-fighting, and suggested failure to support the legislation may be linked to a desire to see the government fail.

“We are attempting, on an incremental basis as a responsible government, to keep this society safe, not to condemn ourselves to emotional appeals to create a crisis so there can be some pretend basis to say the government failed and voted out of office. When we do that we are being reckless and we are exposing the citizenry to the downfall of not being a responsible Parliament.”

Independent Senators Dr Varma Deyalsingh, Paul Richards, Amrita Deonarine, Charisse Seepersad and Deoroop Temal were not convinced and voted against the extension.

The government was supported by Independent Senators Hazel Thompson-Ahye, Dr Maria Dillon-Remy and Josh Drayton. Independent Senator Evans Welch abstained.

The final count of votes were 18 senators in favour of the extension, 11 against and one abstention.

Contacted for comment, Minister in the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal said while the decision was an example that TT’s democracy was still functional, it did not contribute anything to the protection of the public.

“The reality is that come August 4, repeat offenders for crimes such as grievous sexual offences, drugs, ammunition, and so on, who were previously restricted for 120 days from applying for bail, will now have the opportunity to immediately approach the court for bail.

“Some may be denied when this application is made, but some may be granted when the application is made and they are the ones I am concerned about.

“They will be walking our streets, returning to our communities, in our maxis and taxis when our children, husbands and wives go out to work, and the list goes on.”

Sagramsingh-Sooklal added there were concerns that courts may receive a flood of bail applications.

During a media conference at the Ministry of National Security in June, acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob pleaded for the extension of the law. He said it has helped in convicting people accused of serious crimes while targeting repeat offenders.

Newsday contacted Jacob shortly after the Senate adjourned, but he said he did not want to comment until he saw the outcome of the debate himself.

Further attempts to contact Jacob later on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Former police commissioner Gary Griffith said the law was effective in crime-fighting and lamented it’s failure to be extended.

“I will continue to state a bill like that is critical to assisting in crime reduction. The value is, without that bill there is no deterrent. It means someone can have five assault rifles and can be given bail the next day.

“I am not here to be friend or foe of any political party, but I think it’s interesting when this bill first came out even someone with a side arm (handgun) would have been denied bail. But now we have reached a point even with an assault rifle, we are saying bail can and should be given.”

He said in some countries, if someone is found with an assault rifle, even if that person has not pulled the trigger, they are deemed to be a terrorist.

“Here we are saying it is okay. I really wish this was reconsidered.”

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