Legislation could soon be coming to put an end to accused persons sitting in jail for prolonged periods without a court hearing.
Three weeks after it was revealed Winston Agard had spent seven years in HMP Dodds without attending a court hearing, Attorney General Dale Marshall said he was pushing to have Criminal Procedure Rules put in place.
The 50-year-old Agard, who had been charged for theft of a handbag and its contents, only appeared in court after a prison officer highlighted his plight to the relevant authorities.
He was subsequently given bail to return for sentencing.
While describing Agard’s situation as “unfortunate” Marshall said measures needed to be introduced to ensure there was no possibility of such a recurrence.
“That was an anomaly, an embarrassment to our country, but it is not a state of affairs that you would consider to be rife. But the important thing is that we have to take steps to make sure if they are any others in the system, that we deal with them immediately,” the Attorney General maintained.
“We are now considering the passing of Criminal Procedure Rules which will help to codify all of the arrangements that have to be made in respect of those things. I expect to be able to move to Cabinet within the next few weeks and seek their permission to put rules in place. We already have some draft rules under consideration but I think that piece-by-piece, we’re going to get all of those things ready.”
The Attorney General said once he became aware of Agard’s case, he spoke to Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson who subsequently provided him with a list of persons on remand at HMP Dodds for two years, as well as persons on remand for over six months.
He said both lists had been provided to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for review.
Marshall said initiatives were already in place to address similar issues in the short term.
He pointed to the recent move by Justice Randall Worrell, who suspended matters in his court to hear the status of some prisoners on remand and their intentions.
“Judge Worrell has begun a process that we had actually agreed on in a meeting that I had with himself representing the High Court Criminal Bench and the private bar and also the DPP. We sat down and we looked seriously at the issue of what structures we could put in place in an administrative way to get people down to deal with bail issues,” the Attorney General said.
“Often people will apply for bail, but when they get to court they say to the judge ‘Well Sir I didn’t really want bail, I just wanted an opportunity to come to court to plead guilty’, but that is not a feature of our system.”
Marshall said he believed the backlog in the judicial system would eventually be relieved once these systems were put in place.
However, he admitted it would not happen overnight.
“When we add new Criminal Procedure Rules to additional High Court judges, it is a slow process, but I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.