A few weeks ago, two men were charged for allegedly shooting at a policeman and having an illegal gun and ammunition.
The men were both known to the police: One was previously charged with murder, while his alleged accomplice was previously charged with armed robbery and illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.
About a week later, both accused were back on the streets, having been placed on bail.
Scenarios like this have become all too common and senior police officials and some key politicians have repeatedly suggested that bail be refused for repeat offenders accused of serious crimes such as armed robbery.
Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan is one of those pleading with the judiciary to act on these concerns.
Asked about Guyana instituting a “three strikes law,” for repeat offenders, Ramjattan pointed out that the present administration is in ‘caretaker mode,’ and that such a law, instituted elsewhere, deals specifically with persons who have been repeatedly convicted.
But while stating that bail is “a constitutional right,” Ramjattan agreed that bail should in some cases be refused, or be substantial.
“”I would like to leave this to the discretion of the magistrates…at this stage, I would want the magistrates and the judiciary to be a bit more stringent…they should not be bailed, or should be placed on substantial bail.”
In a 2016 interview, Ramjattan had stated that there are legal principles governing bail, and hoped that magistrates would remand some individuals.
He was responding to questions about the prevalence of individuals being released on bail, even while they are before the courts for other serious offences such as armed robbery, and even attempted murder.
At the time, he was referring to a case in which a youth who, while on bail on an attempted murder charge, was later apprehended for a robbery outside a city hotel.
“There are the legal principles governing bail, which would tell a magistrate not to grant bail, and I hope that the magistrates are going to not grant bail to some of these people,” Ramjattan said.
“In my view, fellows like that, the legal principles state very clearly you must not grant bail, because of the nature of the offender, he having being charged with all these offences and now being caught, literally red handed,” added Ramjattan, who has served as both prosecutor and defence counsel.
“But of course there are cases where the discretion of one magistrate is vastly different from the discretion of another. There will be errors.
“If the magistrate then, hearing the prosecutor pleading that this man must not go on bail and still grants bail, there is nothing that a minister should do, because we will interfere in another branch of government.”
He conceded that the presence of repeat offenders for serious crimes on the streets is presenting further challenges to the police.
“It is also making the fear in the land a little more, because people are saying that ‘the fellow get bail, he could come and attack me next morning’.”
“He could even attack the magistrate… so they too must feel compelled that this fellow must go in there (jail).”
Going even further in 2016, former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran had suggested that legislation to make armed robbery a non-bailable offence could put a dent in such crimes.
He had said that although police had reported a decline in crime at that time, the decline was not significant enough to reduce public safety or fear.
“There is no doubt that the Crime Chief (Wendell Blanhum) and his team, with the support and committed effort of the Commissioner (Seelall Persaud) and police administration, have done a great all round job and crime has declined.
But violent crime is too extensive and persistent, and criminals too brazen and well organized for any peaceful Guyanese to feel anything but fear.”
He suggested imposing short-term methods to keep criminals off the streets.
These include granting greater custodial power to Magistrates, which is limited.
“Alternatively, I have argued that legislation should be enacted to empower Magistrates to refer convicted defendants to the High Court for sentencing where the Magistrate feels that his or her custodial power is inadequate,” he added.
Ramkarran stressed that both the High Court and the Summary Court should implement refusing bail to repeat offenders.
The former Speaker had said that as long as he could recall, there were complaints about the release of defendants or accused persons on the streets after they are charged.
Ramkarran had suggested that the simplest solution was to legislate to make armed robbery an offence which is not bailable. The Government must act now. The public can wait no longer, Ramkarran had stressed.
At a recent conference, Acting Crime Chief Michael Kingston also expressed concern about the many repeat offenders.
Previously, some senior police officials had said that this easy access to bail is emboldening some criminals and fuelling the rise in brazen robberies.
“They are capitalizing on this weakness in the judicial system and they are capitalizing on the large backlog of cases (which results in delays in trials),” a senior official said in a 2016 interview.
This charade often only ends when the victims are incarcerated on murder charges or are slain by the police or by their own associates.
“Bail ought to be a serious deterrent to crime. You have in some cases the (accused) being granted $200,000 bail, $180,000 bail, $50,000 bail.
What are we talking about here?” Former Acting Commissioner of Police David Ramnarine had said.
Ramnarine recalled that a man was charged with unlawful possession of arms and ammunition and granted bail.
“While on bail, he is arrested and charged with simple larceny of an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) valued at three point something million dollars. He is granted bail again.”
“So he is out on bail for a serious crime, and he is granted $50,000 bail for another serious crime the following month.”
According to Ramnarine, the same individual was a prime suspect in the robbery/ murder of a Brazilian national.
“How can we be so insensitive in the granting of bail?” he said.
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