The revised Bail Act will breach constitutional rights

Pexels Ekaterina Bolovtsova 6077381
Judge in Chambers. Courtesy of Ekaterina Bolovtsova

Section 5 of the proposed Bail Act 2022 has faced opposition by the Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) as it goes against the constitutional rights of the citizens. Section 5 speaks to the precharge bail that detainees can now face. Pre-charge bail happens when detainees are held without being charged.

According to the Bail Act 2022, an individual who is detained can be held for 120 hours or five days based on an identification parade. Otherwise, if they were arrested by police officers it is the decision of a justice of the peace or a constable to grant or refuse bail. If bail is refused they are taken to a parish judge after 48 hours of detention for the judge to approve or disprove bail. Andre Shackleton, lecturer at the University of the West Indies who lectures about law information, property law, and international economic law, highlights that precharge bail is a constitutional issue where it is the decision of the judge whether the detainee is granted bail or not. There are exceptional circumstances where detainees are not granted bail due to the seriousness of the offence. Shackleton spoke on the act at a joint select committee on Thursday.

Mickel Jackson, executive director of the Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) said, “if it is that one’s right to liberty has been abused in the way that we have seen it…. then we may have some constitutional challenges that cause taxpayers to lose their money”. Jackson emphasized that the time these detainees would lose cannot be given back. Jackson stated, further, that people in power have taken advantage of the system and have discovered loopholes in the system where detainees are given a high bail cost. The “high bail cost” is generally given to low-income detainees who are unable to pay the bail amount and, therefore, will remain in prison.

According to the Bail Act, convicted people who are on bail must return to court after a certain time.  Shackleton had raised a concern that people who are on bail after conviction should not be on bail because they are not innocent if they were convicted. This bill has made it clear that detainees will be conditionally approved after conviction or only under exceptional circumstances that exclude the offences that are listed in the Act.

Blake Keyes, a resident of Hanover, was asked what he thought about the Bail Act he said, ‘I don’t understand anything, not even the panel understand those laws in Parliament, so how will common citizens understand the same law”. Keyes further stated, “Jamaica cannot become lawless if the laws are meant to be only clearly understood by those who make, write and present the laws.”

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