Privy Council looks at bail for murder issue

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

OVER the next two days, five judges of the Privy Council will hear submissions from the State on why a recent Court of Appeal decision which allows anyone on a murder charge to apply for bail, should be struck down.

The State has appealed the February decision of the Appeal Court which upheld the challenge of Akili Charles, a former murder accused, whose attorneys, led by Senior Counsel Anand Ramlogan, had argued that section 5(1) of the Bail Act was unconstitutional.

The landmark decision of the Appeal Court led to the first successful bail application in more than a century in Trinidad and Tobago in March, and another in May. The former is on appeal to determine if a master of the High Court has the power to grant bail to someone charged with murder.

On Monday, another High Court judge is expected to rule on a similar bail application.

In the matter before the Privy Council, which will be heard on Wednesday and Thursday, the presiding judges are Lords Hodge, Kitchin, Hamblen, Burrows, and Stephens.

Ten grounds of challenge faulting the Appeal Court’s decision were filed in support of the State’s appeal.

A previous application to delay the application of the Appeal Court’s decision in the local courts had been denied by the London appellate court which, instead, agreed to hear the matter with urgency.

The State says the appeal involved the proper interpretation of sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution and were issues of “great general and public importance.”

It also said the matter relates to whether the prohibition to bail for murder was saved law and whether it infringed the separation of powers, the rule of law, and the fundamental rights of the accused and was not reasonably justifiable.

The Director of Public Prosecutions and several other agencies involved in the bail application process, including the police and the State’s civil litigation departments, have advanced logistical reasons why the process is unworkable, citing staff shortages as a major factor.

The State contends that before the 1976 Constitution came into effect, there was no law that gave judges the power to grant bail on a murder charge so section 5(1) was saved from a challenge as an “existing law.”

Leading the State’s team is Peter Knox, QC, while Ramlogan leads British QC Peter Carter, Pippa Woodrow, Adam Riley, and Ganesh Saroop for Charles. The Law Association is appearing as an interested party in the matter.

Ramlogan and his team will argue that the local courts always had a discretion to grant bail even for crime considered heinous.