Over 1,200 remand prisoners accused of murder have been given the green light to start applying for judicial officers to consider bail for them.
Delivering an oral decision, a short while ago, Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Appellate Judges Mira Dean-Armorer and Malcolm Holdip dismissed an application from the Office of the Attorney General to continue to stay its recent judgment on the constitutionality of Section 5(1) of the Bail Act of 1994, which precluded judicial officers from considering bail for persons accused of murder.
Despite the Appeal Court’s ruling on the suspension of the judgment, the effects of the landmark case can still possibly be put on hold as AG’s Office is expected to apply to the United Kingdom-based Privy Council for a similar stay pending the determination of its final appeal.
Addressing concerns raised by the AG’s Office over the ability of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the T&T Police Service (TTPS) to effectively and efficiently respond to an avalanche of bail applications, CJ Archie expressed confidence that judicial officers would give the parties time to adequately respond to such applications.
“Even if 1,000 applications are made they obviously cannot be heard at the same time,” CJ Archie said. He also suggested that applications would only be granted if applicants meet strict criteria already used for other bailable offences.
“The State’s interest could be protected by the court on an application for bail,” he said, as he noted that the stay application could be brought before the Privy Council in less than a week.
In its ruling in the substantive case brought by former murder accused Akilli Charles, the appeal panel said the segment of the legislation was not reasonably justifiable in a society that is concerned about the rights and freedoms of the individual.
“The unanimous view of this panel is that, by removing the jurisdiction of High Court Judges to grant bail to persons charged with murder, section 5 has trespassed on a core judicial function,” they said.
They also noted that the constitutional savings clause, which insulates pre-republican legislation from review by a court, did not apply as there was no general prohibition to grant bail, to persons charged with murder, in 1976.
Reporter: Derek Achong