MINISTER of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte is encouraging Jamaicans to familiarise themselves with the provisions of the Bail Act.
Currently, the Act is being reviewed, with the Senate set to debate on the Bill later this month.
Malahoo Forte, who was speaking in a recent interview with JIS News, said the law has made some important changes relating to bail, including the stages at which bail may be granted.
"It will be very important for everyone to take time to read the provisions of the law and we are operating at a stage where all our laws are online. Pre-charge bail is the most innovative provision of the new law and it has been the subject of widespread analysis and discussion. I am happy to clarify that your right to liberty is not an absolutely guaranteed right," she said.
The constitution sets out circumstances in which a citizen may be deprived of their right to liberty. "Within the Jamaican context, where witnesses are often threatened, where it is difficult to get the evidence to proceed to charge and conviction, we found it necessary to provide for a time frame within which the police can be allowed more time," the minister said.
"This would allow them to proffer a charge against someone that they have reasonable suspicion that the person has committed an offence, that is where the pre-charge bail comes in," she noted. Pre-charge bail is intended to operate at a level that is higher than other crimes.
"The law specifies the types of offences of which persons are suspected in order for them to come under the pre-charge bail regime. It also indicates who may grant bail," Malahoo Forte said.
Bail may be granted out of court by the police or justice of the peace as well as in court by a judge at all levels of the court - the Parish Court, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. Meanwhile, with regard to pre-charge bail, Malahoo Forte said the law sets out very specific matters that have to be taken into account so that people are not unnecessarily put on bail.
"It is going to be necessary to assess the grounds on which it is alleged that there is reason to believe that the defendant has committed an offence. This includes the stage of the investigation, so far, and the manner in which they have been conducted as well as how expeditiously they have been conducted," she explained.