Lawyer warns against changes to Bail Act

COMMERCIAL litigator Carlene Larmond has cautioned that in addition to possibly infringing on the constitutional rights of individuals, the changes to the Bail Act which the Government has hinted at could put more strain on the public purse.

“Lawyers will tell you after these cases are disposed of and the persons have been released because they have been found guilty you have false imprisonment claims, malicious prosecution claims. I saw first-hand the strain on the public purse when those [civil] cases are not determined in the Government’s favour,” said Larmond, former head of litigation in the Attorney General’s Office, stated.

She was speaking at a forum last week hosted by the parliamentary Opposition on constitutional reform and rights, and the country’s move towards republic status, at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel in Kingston.

Larmond said the move towards the country becoming a republic has been on Government’s agenda for far too long and needs to be realised, and also noted the ongoing discussions of replacing the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica’s final appellate court. “It may well be that the timing wouldn’t allow for them to occur simultaneously, but we expected to see some kind of indication that we would be heading in that direction. They logically go together because our final court is the majesty in council — the Queen — so if we are speaking of Republic status, then it is a necessary conversation and it is a direction in which we should go,” she reasoned.

According to Larmond, Caribbean neighbours Trinidad and Tobago, which is a republic, has maintained the Privy Council as its final court but is seeking to have the CCJ as its final court. “So we see that there is a move in that direction generally,” she remarked.

She argued that although the Privy Council can be done away with by a simple majority of Parliament, to put the CCJ in place will take collective will to follow through as this step requires two third of the votes in both the Lower House and the Senate. “The bottom line is we need to have engagement of the public on these issues because if a referendum is required then public education is necessary,” she stressed.

Constitutional Affairs Minister Marlene Malahoo Forte, who recently announced plans for a sweeping review of the Jamaican Constitution, also spoke of proposed changes to the Bail Act which would deny the accused on gun and murder charges, bail. This has, however, been severely criticised by the public as well as lawyers and civil society.

— Alphea Sumner

Alphea Saunders

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