Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has rubbished arguments by the Opposition that Government is again seeking to violate the constitutional right of every citizen to bail, through its proposed amendment of the Bail Bill 2019.
Debating in the Senate yesterday, Opposition Senator Wade Mark advanced concerns that the proposed amendment resembled a clause rejected by the Opposition when the bill was passed in August this year, as it sought to deny bail to first-time offenders found in possession of illegal firearms, including for the purpose of trafficking, for 120 days.
Mark said this was again “draconian” of the Government and, pleading for a separation of powers, said the amendment threatened to allow Government to tell the judiciary what to do.
Describing the clause as “very, very dangerous”, Mark said the Opposition found the entire piece of legislation to be unconstitutional and questioned the motive behind its introduction.
He questioned whether the move was related to concerns expressed by the Attorney General last month as to the granting of bail to a man found in possession of nine automatic firearms.
Mark, who later said the number of high-powered weapons being found in the country was not enough to justify “punitive” response by Government, said it was the right of every citizen to be assumed innocent until proven guilty.
He asked whether the Government was trying to justify the subversion and compromising of citizens’ enshrined rights.
The Opposition demanded that the clause be applicable where a person has a previous or pending charge and that the bill’s three-year Sunset Clause be applied to such an amendment.
He said the Opposition fully understood the need to arrest the flow of illegal firearms, but accused the Government of being “lazy” by looking only to jail people instead of tackling the roots of crime.
Mark accused the Government of seeking to extend its power, of trying to inject fear into the Senate and of seeking to reverse the burden of proof.
Referring to the separation of powers and protection of the independence of the judiciary, Mark said: “Let us play in our section, nah.”
He also warned against false imprisonment, saying people can be set up and once they are denied bail and their matter called, they could spend the rest of their lives in the prison system.
He warned against bail being used as a punishment.
AG: Read the law
Al-Rawi was not having it yesterday and advised Mark et al to read the legislation first.
He noted that prior to his assumption of office, it was not customary to circulate to the Senate “marked-up” copies of the law for ease of research and reference.
He said he chose to make this the norm to encourage informed debates.
The AG said reading the legislation would show that the proposed amendment does not violate the Constitution as there are no absolute rights.
He said Section Five up to Sub-section Two remained in place and only effectively excluded capital offences such as treason.
This allows that the court may grant bail to any persons charged with an offence other than the offence listed in part one of the first schedule.
“This bill doesn’t propose to amend that,” he said.
The amendment aims for Section Five, Sub-section Three, where a person coming to court charged with possession of an automatic weapon, or trafficking of firearms, “will effectively run through the mill of having to convince a court”.
Al-Rawi also assured that the Sunset Clause applied to the proposed amendment and that the law was “proportionate and measured”.
Saying he believed Government had the ability to support the amendment, the AG also said: “We have the right to tell the judiciary what we consider the people ought to have.”
The Bail (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2019 went into committee stage yesterday evening. It was passed in the Senate last night.
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