Magistrate Tiyani Behanzin has called for the introduction of a Bail Act as soon as possible to address some of the inconsistencies within the justice system.
He believes the absence of a Bail Act leaves no general guidelines to govern bail, sometimes resulting in contradictory rulings among magistrates.
“I was a bit astonished that there was no general guideline for bail because there is no bail act. There’s nothing that governs bail, apart from vague reference in the constitution,” he stated.
Behanzin spoke of cases where he had denied bail for certain defendants who were then released on bail within 24 hours by another magistrate. This, he said, shows some level of inconsistency within the system.
“If you are on bail and you commit another offense there is no bail for you. That is a cardinal rule for not giving bail… another magistrate shouldn’t give you bail if another magistrate denies you bail. That application should be encouraged to go to the high court … and it only happens to me mostly,” he explained.
“I deny you bail on Tuesday at 3 o’clock, the next morning you outside. That makes the system look inconsistent. It makes the system look as if it’s a personal thing against some of the decisions that I’m making … For example, if I say, based on the reports that I have received from a doctor that that person is a danger , my colleague or anybody else at that level should not then say that person is okay to be released less than 24 hours later. That makes no sense,” the magistrate stated.
The magistrate related a particular situation where he had denied bail for a defendant who was shortly granted bail by another magistrate. He was killed within eight days of his release.
“There was a gentleman who was refused bail at magistrate’s court, he went to the high court, bail was refused. His bail was opened at the magistrate court level, which means the magistrate court is reviewing the decision of the high court, which is impossible. He was then released. Just so he will be killed so he cannot give evidence in that matter again. He was killed within eight days,” the magistrate said.
Reports were written to try to get the defendant rearrested because “clearly he was out unlawfully,” according to Behanzin.
“The fact that he was a poor ‘malayway’ had a huge effect on this case because nobody cared … He was already involved in certain criminal activity, so therefore his life is not worth it. But should he have been delivered to the society so that he will be killed? Nobody wants to answer that question,” he uttered.
In addition, the magistrate mentioned a case where another man-accused of grievous bodily harm- whom he had denied bail to, went missing and is now feared dead after receiving bail a few days later from another magistrate.
Behanzin said he believes that a Bail Act will put matters into perspective so that the magistracy as a whole can look at general guidelines when considering bail. While bail is granted for rape and murder, Behanzin is not pleased with bail being granted for to someone charged with murder.
He made reference to distinct variations in bail sums among magistrates for serious crimes- another inconsistency he is convinced is caused by the lack of a bail legislation, adding “in one court $4,000 and the next court, we get $60,000 and you get $30,000, so you just shop. Depending on who is sitting in court that day, you just shop around.”
The magistrate also spoke against low bail sums for serious crimes which he believes make it easier for persons to “disappear” after committing crimes.
“People almost calculate when there is such a low bail level people disappear. They pay $5,000… they disappear, and they send it to the court or the person who was suppose to have stood bail for them sent the money to pay the court, so $5,000 doesn’t get us anywhere,” he said.
He raised concern over the ‘ridiculous’ issue of defendants being asked to surrender their passports as a condition of their bail in efforts to guarantee that they do not flee the jurisdiction.
“It’s ridiculous. This is an island. You could take a boat in Anse De Mais tonight; you can leave Portsmouth by boat tonight to go to Guada, or any of the places you wanna go to without passport. You can leave right outside the marine base with stolen goods coming in and out, and nobody seeing you, so I think it’s pretty silly to tell somebody hand over your passport … What you must say and you should say is that defendant cannot step off Dominican soil…” he said.
According to him, granting bail generates a certain kind of criminality on the streets, therefore bail matters should be taken very seriously. “If I know I could shoot you today and get bail, well I can shoot you today. No long story… This is exactly what the case was in Bahamas and they’ve now put a stop to it.”
The local magistrate’s comments were made at a forum in Trafalgar recently.