Sincerest thanks to you, Mr Frederick
History will show that at least two of those convicted for the 1984 murder of Cyril Sisnett at Francia Plantation were previously on bail, in connection with other crimes, at the time of the retiree’s tragic demise.
A check with either police prosecutors at the Court Prosecutors Office, some defence counsel or even prison authorities, will also confirm that there have been several instances of persons, denied bail by the Magistrates’ Court and subsequently granted bail by the Supreme Court, having engaged in further criminal activity while awaiting trial.
It is a state of affairs that has led to much anguish and avoidable hours of arduous manhunt by members of the Royal Barbados Police Force –– akin to a cat repeatedly chasing its own tail. It is a situation that has caused sureties to wring their hands in frustration. It is an occurrence that has led innocent families to be startled each time they hear an early morning knock at their homes.
This is a subject which is seldom discussed by officialdom in the public domain. But for the first time in living memory an officer of the court –– no less a person than Magistrate Douglas Frederick –– has demonstrated the conviction and fortitude to place the topic firmly on the front burner. Barbados owes him a debt of immense gratitude.
To the best of our knowledge, the law requires no consultative process between a magistrate and a High Court judge before the latter basically goes over the head of the former and grants bail where the magistrate has refused it.
Again, to the best of our knowledge, no consultation on bail between the two ever takes place. A defence counsel simply avails himself or herself of a judge, makes the application, and bail is either granted or again denied. If John Public previously ignored what has been a major headache for law enforcement officers –– and now it seems the magistracy –– this week’s sentiments expressed by Mr Frederick are particularly instructive.
“It seems as though they [the judges] are undermining the decisions of the magistrates’ courts . . . . I am seeing this time and time again,” Frederick said, while dealing with one situation where an accused he had previously remanded was back before him for a serious crime after being granted bail by a judge. The critical point which an apparently upset Frederick contended was that magistrates usually had sound reasons for withholding bail from specific accused.
Of course, there are also situations where magistrates themselves grant bail and those accused commit further crime –– inclusive of murder. Thus, the High Court does not stand singularly culpable in such unfortunate circumstances. But what Mr Frederick seemed to be stressing was that when the magistrates’ courts deny bail, they usually have “sound reasons” for doing so.
Undoubtedly, a criminal charge is just an accusation, and accused persons are deemed innocent until proven guilty. The Bail Act is part of our laws and subscribes to persons being granted their conditional freedom while their criminal matters are duly processed. But the remand process is the flip side of that, designed to protect the public and, indeed, the accused. Thus, if there is contention or concerns between the magistrate and judge on the granting of bail, then it is a matter that needs to be addressed with some dispatch.
It seems rather ludicrous that a magistrate, being of sound mind, can make a decision on the granting of bail, and within fewer than 48 hours his ruling can be reversed, basically rubbished by a judge, without at least some input from that presiding magistrate.
Of course, we do not seek to reduce the authority of judges, as magistrates are also human, and can err for any number of mortal reasons in their consideration to grant or not grant bail. But it cannot and should not sit comfortably in the psyche of either judge or magistrate when they see members of the public paying the price –– sometimes the ultimate price –– for a judgment call on their part, which outcome could have been obviated through a more consultative approach between magistrate and judge.
Barbados’ judiciary has come in for some verbal lashes over the years. Sloth remains endemic –– a fact pointed out by no less an authority than the Caribbean Court of Justice. Often, people are reluctant to criticize the agency or authority which they serve. It is a situation where they are being critical of people with whom they rub shoulders every day.
But there is a school of thought that criticism is an act of patriotism. Indeed, it could be considered the highest form of patriotism, serving more purpose than mundane rituals and national adulation.
Mr Frederick might have just shown this country a selfless act of great patriotism.