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Leading the blind


Leading the blind

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Last month, our Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson led a two-day workshop which complained that 50 per cent of the inmates of Dodds were remand prisoners.

Later in the month, the Office of the Attorney General published Government’s proposed amendments to the Bail Act under which those charged with treason, murder or firearms offences would be held on remand for a minimum of 18 months before they can apply for bail. Hello?

Two things scream at those of us schooled in the Rumpole tradition. First, an accused person has a right to bail, subject to the provisions of the act. How, then, can you put that right on hold for some offences but not others? What purpose does it serve? Surely, as the Court of Appeal has recognised, there are many who’ve been on remand for far too long already.

Second, there is a constitutionally entrenched presumption of innocence. How, then, can you impose an additional, arbitrary prison term upfront before an accused’s legislative and constitutional safeguards can kick in? Is it all about being “tough on crime”? Or is it a way of camouflaging the fact that our prosecuting authorities are notoriously slow in getting their act together? Or is it a cynical way of changing our language such that the word “accused” is now to mean “convict”?

The embarrassment deepens. Soldiers, policemen and security guards are exempt from the proposal on a murder charge where the killing occurs “in circumstances connected with the discharge” of official duties. But why them?

Murder is still murder, no matter the status of the alleged perpetrator; and security guards in principle have no more rights than the rest of us. Why should a security guard who uses excessive force and kills be in any better position than a domestic killing accused who wants to plead she was provoked?

Are we really to have “lesser” murder for the saintly categories and “greater” murder for the rest of us, the damned? Moreover, if these people are exempt not for acts “in the course of official duties” – when they’re actually “on the job” – but in circumstances merely “connected” with their official duties, arguably a killing on the way to work, or on a tea break, or on an authorized day-off, would attract the exemption. Maverick killings are okay then.

I wonder what the Bar will make of it all. I hope they won’t pull any punches. Justice may be blind, but she’s surely not as dumb as these proposals.