St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The government’s decision to get parliamentary approval for amendments to the Bail Act and the Firearms Act is being criticized by two practicing layers in the federation.
Both Prime Minister Timothy Harris and Attorney General Vincent Byron have explained why they want the amendments done, in keeping with recommendations by the police.
“Criminals charged with capital felonies and have been granted bail have gone on to orchestrate and commit other capital offences” Attorney General Byron said.
“Some of the homicides that have been committed have been done by persons who were released on bail and therefore our system has to respond to that reality” PM Harris said.
However former Attorney General Jason Hamilton and defense attorney Chesley Hamilton are urging the government to provide the evidence to back that claim.
“I want to challenge the Attorney General to provide those statistics on those trends.”
“I hear them saying that but until I see some statistical evidence of that that’s just talk in the wind.”
Attorney Hamilton says consulting with those intimately involved in the judicial process is critical.
“You know they would say they have consulted wide and far and regionally and so on, but there is a need to consult those practitioners in the area in the jurisdiction. It’s a very small group of people, but are we part of the solution or part of the problem? I’m not setting a guilty man free, the only person who has the ability to do that is a judge or a magistrate, that when somebody upon conviction gives them a discharged sentence or suspended sentence, I don’t have that power nor that ability.”
Former attorney general Hamilton is also calling for consultation on the proposed amendments.
“There should be some dialogue with the Bar Association certainly to find out what their views or the members of the Bar’s views on those matters. The previous Bail Act had some consternation with the Bar Association and they gave some valuable imput to it, and the situation as it is now in terms of the present Bail Act if the concern is about persons reoffending if a bail is granted by a magistrate for example that can be appealed, so I don’t know that there have been very many appeals where bails has been granted and not ought to have been granted. So I don’t know if that is necessarily the remedy to what might be concerning the government in relation to that at this point.”
Hamilton, who is now in private practice, acknowledges the need for action against the growing violent crime situation.
He points to measures he thinks would help.
“Certainly we need to put in some measure to deal with witness protection. I hear the police saying if you see something say something, but that sounds good but when I live in the same community as the persons who are committing offences certainly see something, say something has consequences to my life, to my family’s life and so unless I can protect the people coming forward to give evidence, then I don’t know if that moves us anywhere properly. Second thing, would have something to do with some kind of plea bargaining system where it is formalized and the persons who are on the lower end of the criminal spectrum that have information that can help in the larger picture of things, can give evidence and there is some credit give to them in terms of their sentence.”
WINN FM asked if the witness protection programme wasn’t already happening.
“It happens in an informal way I don’t know that its formalized, but certainly a lot of the things that happen, for example, we claim to catch a lot of persons with firearms regularly but certainly that’s on the bottom end of the spectrum, there are persons obviously on the higher end of the spectrum who are helping to bring in these guns. So the person who is on the bottom who gets caught with the gun I don’t think they have the where with all or the financial means to be importing guns, it has to be someone higher up the chain. So if you put something in place where that evidence, you’re not just glad to say I caught a man with a gun and give him a prison term because they are just cogs in the wheel. The persons who are bringing them in, will find new persons who will use the guns for other activities. So it has to be something that is done systematically, a designed programme that gets the persons who are higher up on the spectrum.”
On the question of witness protection, Prime Minister Timothy Harris indicated at his press conference Wednesday that the matter is being addressed.
“Those who see the crime must report it and yes, they must be assured that their confidentiality will be protected. In this regard we will strengthen our witness protection programme both on island and overseas. Meantime we will engage in a comprehensive effort to address the challenge to public safety and security.”