Fox Hill MP Says Juries Bill Proposed Legislation "Unconstitutional"

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Member of Parliament of Fox Hill Fred Mitchell.

Nassau Bahamas – Fred Mitchell, Member of Parliament for Fox Hill spoke today Monday 22nd October, 2007 in the House of Assembly on the Juries Bill, calling the proposed legislation “unconstitutional… since there is a right of anyone who is charged with an offence to have a jury trial by 12 people not 9”.

Mr. Mitchell said that there was no evidence to support the government’s contention that the Bill would assist in the administration of justice. “The people of the country look to the government for answers, not descriptions of the problem. It is clear that what they propose to do here with this bill will not address the crime problem or the fear of crime. It is in a word a useless piece of legislation and cannot be supported.

“Instead of bringing this useless bill, why not show us what plan you have to deal with crime and the fear of crime?”

Mr. Mitchell’s remarks follow below in full.

INTERVENTION BY FRED MITCHELL MP FOX HILL
ON THE AMENDMENT TO THE JURIES BILL

House of Assembly
Nassau
22nd October 2007

Mr. Speaker, the Progressive Liberal Party’s position on this Bill has been outlined by our principal spokesman on the matter the Member for Ft. Charlotte and it has been amplified by many of the other members after him. It is clear that this Bill does not come with the support of the Bar Association. It is also clear that the Chief Justice did not list it as amongst the important reforms that he recommended to the then Attorney General , the Member for Ft. Charlotte.

It is also clear that the rationale for this bill, without the apparent support of the Bench and the Bar does not add up. The Government’s junior Minister in the Office of the Attorney General claimed that this would assist with the administration of justice. It was a baldly asserted fact. There was no evidence to support it.

It is also clear that the Government sees this as an opportunity to debate what is obvious in the country. Murders are at 60 today, equaling the entire record for last year. The country is agitated about crime. The fear of crime is rising. The Government’s Minister of National Security gave last week a comprehensive but I am afraid idle list of statistics about what is going on with regard to crime. He even said that there are 114 people who are on bail for the crime of murder. What was interesting about his intervention, and that of the others from the side opposite who spoke is that they could well have been ordinary citizens. They witnessed to the same despair and imploring that the ordinary citizen does. In that regard then, it is clear that they have fallen down on the job.

The people of the country look to the government for answers, not descriptions of the problem. It is clear that what they propose to do here with this bill will not address the crime problem or the fear of crime. It is in a word a useless piece of legislation and cannot be supported.

Mr. Speaker, we had a long recess, from Wednesday 18th July 2007 to Wednesday 3rd October 2007. You would have thought with almost 90 days off from work that the government would come roaring to go with this agenda of trust that they were so busy promoting in their last campaign. Of course, we knew that it was only smoke and mirrors, a pied piper fooling us that he would not lead us over a cliff, but over that cliff it is clear that we are headed.

The proof is what we are doing today. A one page amendment to an existing act that does nothing, has no obvious progenitors or sponsors in the sector, and yet is the government that says this will help the administration of justice.

In fact when we came back to the House, I was embarrassed for the Government that prides itself on being on time. They started the House and then had to promptly suspend the House for one hour because they were not ready, after almost three months of vacation, they were simply not ready.

Let’s hear about some practical things right now today that can be done to help with the issues about which the public is concerned. How about those who are on bail for murder? If the government wanted to do something, they could further amend the law on bail on how the courts ought to interpret what is a reasonable time for a fair trial. But no, they want to flap up their gums and do nothing. They could solve the problem either by amending the law to further restrict the right to bail, or they could simply cause speedy trials to take place. The Member for MICAL has already suggested that there ought to be more use of the voluntary bill of indictment.

Up in Freeport, perhaps the Government might simply secure some magistrates and judges for Freeport. After all, it is obvious with no judges or magistrates, there are no trials and justice is denied, not simply delayed. Cassietta McIntosh, an attorney in Freeport, told a Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday 16th October in Freeport that Helen Jones the only magistrate manning the Freeport Magistrate’s Court is on vacation, and the Deputy Registrar Stephana Saunders is now acting in the capacity of a Magistrate to keep the case flow going. In the process, her work at the Supreme Court is left hanging. Ms. McIntosh said that it is common for there to be no judges or magistrates available to sit in Freeport. The Government could solve this by administrative means. They do not need to amend the Juries bill to solve that problem for the people of Grand Bahama.

In Fox Hill, the business community met with the police last week, and they want to co-operate to help solve crime but the businessmen also know that for what appears to be a purely political reason the Superintendent that came to Fox Hill just after the general election has been removed. There was no question that he was competent and doing a good job. It is alleged that the Deputy Prime Minister visited his station unannounced one day and some exchange must have taken place which caused offence. It is alleged that the Deputy Prime Minister then called the Commissioner of Police to complain and the officer was removed from his post as the head of Fox Hill. We all know that he is the son of a PLP Stalwart Councilor so of course many in Fox Hill believe that it was a political motive against a man who was doing a good job in settling the area down following the general election and the sabotaging of the urban renewal programme by the present administration.

The Deputy Prime Minister must say whether this is so or not, because it is believed that because he gave significant personal funding to the reconstruction of the Fox Hill station that he has a view that the station is actually his and not public property. And so it seems to me the question of this kind of private support for the repair or reconstruction of police stations will have to be revisited.

The Member for Farm Road and Centreville likes to say that until lions have their authors the tale of the hunt will be told by the hunter. This incident in Fox Hill with the Deputy Prime Minister recalls an incident with another Bay Street Boy in 1963. A young police officer was working at a private function in Camperdown. He was instructed that no one should be admitted without an invitation. One of the Bay Street Boys showed up without invitation and insisted on entering. He was refused and began to swear at the officer. An altercation ensued and the officer was eventually dismissed from the Force. But amongst the lions of the time, he was one of the heroes of the revolution. What do we say about not knowing our history and being doomed to repeat it?

The removal of the officer in Fox Hill after having such a short time at command now flies in the face of what was supposed to have been another policy of the Commissioner of Police, and that is that district stations are only to be headed by Superintendents. This station is now headed by an Assistant Superintendent. She used to head it before but when the PLP lost office, the policy changed and the Superintendent was placed there superseding her command which was not right or fair to the Assistant Superintendent in the circumstances. It was a bad human resources choice. It destabilized the work of the police in Fox Hill, at a time as I say when urban renewal was being dismantled in Fox Hill. And now having put in place a new command, within months it has been summarily changed again.

And this question of a private contribution to the building of the Fox Hill police station is a particularly interesting public policy issue against the background of this present administration that has caused another senior officer to be hung out to dry, pilloried, embarrassed and humiliated in public for gifts that had been presented to him paid for by police funds but because solicitation took place from the public at large. There must not be a double standard.

The Deputy Prime Minister of course has much to explain not only for that but because the Leader of the Opposition in this place at the last question time raised again the potential of a conflict of interest between the Deputy Prime Minister’s public duties and his private holdings in his participation in the redevelopment of the city of Nassau and the creation of a new port in the south of New Providence. Mr. Speaker as you know similar fact evidence is often an exception to the rule against hearsay, and this may be the case in these matters.

The Government must know that we, the Opposition, the public, my constituents are all concerned about how in the midst of this issue with crime, it is dealing with the administration of the Royal Bahamas Police Force. There are the reports of a purge of all senior officers on the Force who are perceived to be PLP which have gone unanswered. There is the appointment of a Deputy Commissioner of Police over the clear objections of the Leader of the Opposition. There is the report that the Commissioner of Police is being forced to leave his office. Officers tell us that the tension on the Force that can be cut with a knife and I know of a personal experience that one officer refused to deal with a matter I had asked him to investigate because he believed that it was too politically sensitive to handle.

Instead of bringing this useless bill, why not show us what plan you have to deal with crime and the fear of crime?

The PLP had a plan and the FNM when it came to office began to scrap that plan. The first is that we knew that in the absence of the nuclear family structure as we knew it fifty years ago, there was a need for the state to intervene to help our youngsters with their identity and self esteem. That is what Urban Renewal was supposed to do. The FNM came to office saying first they would scrap it, then they wouldn’t scrap it but whatever happened it is so mixed up and so much reduced that it is almost useless today. Just ask the MP for Englerston and the MP for St. Cecelia how the young boys were simply set to sea after the police were summarily removed from the urban renewal offices.

I tell you the experience in Fox Hill where up to the first week in October a church leader told me that some 35 students, only four of whom were female, were suspended from Dame Doris Johnson High School and sent to his church to help them with their rehabilitation while on suspension. That is what urban renewal was supposed to do.

It was interesting to me that we brought Urban Renewal to Fox Hill to dampen down a series of tit for tat killings in Fox Hill. That kept the peace in Fox Hill, with the police actively involved in the community.

Once Urban Renewal was destabilized and shut down, the police left, within weeks, there was a shooting and several days later a killing. And within the last week, there has been another shooting and death in Fox Hill.

The solutions to all the complaints that the National Security Minister listed are long term not short term. And since this government has come to power all they have done is destabilize and sabotage the long term measures that were put in place.

So I say don’t blame me, I voted PLP. If things have gone wrong, put it to your own account.

I am asking the Minister of Education to investigate today why a young security officer whose father is a former representative of Fox Hill has now been transferred from the Sandilands Primary School where in addition to being a security person, he was intimately involved in training for Junkanoo and teaching the young men basketball and in generally being a role model for the young men. It seems that everything is being done by this administration to destabilize Fox Hill. And I give you one guess at whose behest and in pursuance of what objective. Politics! Politics and a losing FNM candidate.

For another example, the Government is still refusing to settle the last payment that it promised in this House to the Fox Hill Festival Committee.

Mr. Speaker, we also sought as part of Urban Renewal to make sure the environment was kept clean. You have only to visit Fox Hill or Canterbury Park and see how badly the parks are kept, the worst in my entire time up there. Everyone complains. During the Diaspora Conference, the foreign delegates were taken to Fox Hill to see what the historic village looked like, and the officials from The Bahamas were embarrassed by how the park was kept, weeds around your knees and dirt everywhere to be found. My appeals to the Minister have gone unanswered.

The second part of the plan to fight crime was our investment in culture, toward forging a national identity. The social theory is that with a population that’s secure in its identity then we will have a more peaceful society. Well we now see that this is definitely not on the agenda of the FNM. Since they have come to office they have done everything to sabotage the public policy left in place by the PLP on culture. Hosting Carifesta has been canceled with the lame excuse that they could not afford it and blaming the PLP.

The Bahamians in New York have been let down by their government, insensitive to the need to support Bahamian culture and heritage abroad, through the refusal to support the restoration of Bahamas House for Bahamians.

Yesterday, I heard announced at the International Cultural Festival that the Ministry of Agriculture is expelling the Festival from the Botanic Gardens using the lame excuse that the gardens are damaged by the Festival. That means the end of the Festival started under former Minister Janet Bostwick in 1995 to mark the anniversary of the United Nations. This international festival that contributes to better international understanding, and entertains hundreds of Bahamians every year is to be scrapped and sacrificed on the false altar of neatness. In fact nothing else goes on in the gardens and the Festival helps the gardens. But supporting the development of a Bahamian identity is not part of the FNM’s agenda. Again, the Deputy Prime Minister has much to answer for in this regard since relations with Caricom, the Cultural Festival and Bahamas House all come within his portfolio.

Mr. Speaker, while I am discussing culture and our heritage, I do want to take this time to extend my condolences to all the friends and family of the late Pauline Glasby, a lecturer at the College of The Bahamas in music and the Musical Director of the Renaissance Singers on her passing. She succeeded the late E. Clement Bethel in that latter post. She trained a generation of Bahamian musicians first in high schools in The Bahamas and then at COB. Many of the musicians on the Royal Bahamas Police Force were trained by her. I know that she will be sadly missed.

Mr. Speaker, no solution to crime can be found in this bill that much is clear. The solutions are both long term and short term. One part of that is a good and robust economy. And certainly the PLP did its best to leave this economy in the best shape that it has been in years. Sadly all of that has been sabotaged and scrapped by the FNM. All the figures now point in a downward direction, and the FNM is unrepentant about it, in fact proud about it, with one minister boasting about how the government cancelled 90 million dollars worth of contracts since they came to office. That means 90 million dollars out of the economy, when the US economy is going soft.

In the short term, you would have expected the Minister to tell business people how they can protect themselves in this season, the busiest robbery season of the year. It is in the run up to Christmas that you have the largest spate of armed robberies. Perhaps the Minister could tell the country what the government is doing about that. No, instead of that very practical solution, they have come with this idle crime bill.

Our view then is that this should be sent to a Committee for further study, and I am sure that any committee will there conclude that this is a useless piece of legislation. My own view is that it is unconstitutional in any event, since there is a right of anyone who is charged with an offence to have a jury trial by 12 people not 9. I trust that this law if passed will be challenged.

And in his regard, I want to thank all the lawyers of this country who continue to be on the cutting edge of the law, testing cases where sometimes the effort seems plainly hopeless, but fighting all the same. It appears that Cassietta McIntosh is amongst the new generation of those lawyers who are concerned about the state of the Judiciary. I certainly want to thank our friend and brother Maurice Glinton for all his work in that regard, daring to struggle and helping in the development of our country in that regard.

You will know Mr. Speaker that I came to this place fighting for a Bahamian judiciary, even though some of the Bahamians on the court did not support it. I still believe in it. I was astounded as I sat in here in my seat last week as a Prime Minister of The Bahamas seemed to suggest that the reason for the problems in the legal system was incompetence: it was not clear who he was taking about – the lawyers at the A.G.’s office, the judges – who knows? Then there was the comment from the same individual about calling up judges and questioning them on whether they were happy with their salaries, and that it is only one judge who is unhappy. Things get curiouser and curiouser.

Mr. Speaker, I am still awaiting a ruling in the matter of the case involving an extradition matter that involved my actions as a Minister. Certain comments were printed in the press attributed to the judges in the case that I found unacceptable. I am reserving the right to further respond once these comments have been confirmed or otherwise. I have said from this place and told the press that I do not comment on extradition matters and how my discretion was exercised save to say that I have always sought to act lawfully whether in my public or private capacity. I always seek to act responsibly and while we as politicians have to act and speak responsibly, so do other actors in the business of government and that includes judges. Following upon the comments printed in the press and attributed to the Courts, I received a visit from a senior officer of the Royal Bahamas Police Force to discuss my personal security as result of those matters raised. I will only say that I received the visit and not what my response was, but suffice to say we must all be responsible in what we say and I take what was reported very seriously.

Thank you Mr. Speaker.