Head of PSWA says: ‘Public needs reassurance on bail for murder’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

President of the Police Social Welfare Association (PSWA) Ag ASP Gideon Dickson. – File photo

Ag ASP Gideon Dickson, president of the Police Social and Welfare Association (PSWA), supported the tightening-up of the award of bail to individuals charged with murder, he told Newsday on Monday July 1. Later that day, the House of Representatives began debate on the Bail (Amendment) Bill, 2024.

The bill, piloted by Attorney General Reginald Armour, amends the Bail Act 1994. The Opposition gave its full support to the bill, which required a three-fifths majority to be passed.

An explanatory note said the bail aimed to restrict bail to people charged with serious offences, following the Privy Council ruling in the case of Akili Charles v State (2022). Supporting Charles’ constitutional motion, the Law Lords said a judge or master may grant bail to a person charged with the offence of murder.

The bill imposes conditions on “the exercise of the court’s discretion in granting bail to persons charged with the offence of murder, serious offences listed in Part II of the First Schedule and firearm-related offences.”

The bill’s new Part II says specified offences were a list of offences those punishable by at least ten years’ imprisonment. These offences pertained to the Anti-Gang Act, Offences Against the Person Act, Dangerous Drugs Act, Kidnapping Act, Sexual Offences Act (or when the victim was a child), Anti-Terrorism Act, Trafficking in Persons Act and the Firearms Act. The bill also seeks to impose “an enhanced reversal of burden” on people charged with the offence of murder and firearm related offences to require such people to show exceptional circumstances to justify granting bail.

The bill stipulates the act must be reviewed every five years after its commencement.

Contacted for comment, Dickson said he respected the separation of powers, saying legislators make law, courts adjudicate on law and the police enforce the law. However, he also said laws must be revisited to ensure they were contemporary and met the needs of society.

He said if murder accused were in “a revolving door” in the court system, it could create a public perception that the system was not working.

“We as a people need to understand that as much as you want to embrace other jurisdictions’ laws because they are in a First World setting, we cannot afford to throw out the baby with the bathwater, or we will, as a small country, create a situation that will become untenable and it will not be in the best interest of us,” he said, in apparent reference to the Privy Council ruling.

Hailing the bill’s toughness, he said an accused must get their day in court, but not at the expense of law-abiding citizens, who expected justice to be “swift and certain.” Dickson said he wanted to see what the bill offered.

“In the context of what is going on here in TT right now, there is a need to revisit the fact that persons who are charged for committing murders are going in and coming back out in a revolving door.”

He lamented that murderers who had chosen a life of crime and were operating with impunity, under the court’s “revolving door.

“It is not doing anything for us as a system and is putting our 1.3 million law-abiding persons in a very, very precarious position, which needs to stop.”