Rt. Hon Hubert Ingraham / Prime Minister of The Bahamas
Nassau Bahamas – A shouting match began as tempers flared in the House of Assembly on Monday as the Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham decried the conditions of the country’s judicial system left by the former PLP govermnent.
The Prime Minister was addressing his support of an amendment to the Juries Act, when comments from the opposition members, caused the leader of the FNM to shout, “people who left the judicial system in the way we [FNM] met it should hang their heads in shame…You have no shame Christie!” The Prime Minister exclaimed as the House erupted in a loud outburst across the floor. “The public of The Bahamas had good reason to fire you.” Mr Ingraham further shouted. This caused the Speaker to quickly called order to the House as the Prime Minister closed his contribution.
“It was a national disgrace that the Progressive Liberal Party spent five years in office and left the judicial system in the mess that it is in today.” Mr. Ingraham said.
Referring to the state of the judiciary under the leadership of former prime minister Perry Christie, Mr. Ingraham said he would hold his head down in shame and declare his failure to the Bahamian people if at the end of his five year term there were 100-plus persons charged with murder who wound up being released on bail because he could not cause them to be tried within two years.
HERE IS THE FULL TEXT OF THE PRIME MINISTER
THE PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker, The Leader of Opposition told us of the great impact which Urban Renewal had on crime in The Bahamas. Up to the end of April when Urban Renewal was in full swing there were 30 murders in the first four months of the year. Since that time, five months later, another 30 murders have been committed. You can draw you own conclusion Mr. Speaker.
I wish to express my support for the proposed amendment of the Juries Act.
I, as all Honourable Members in this place, know that Bahamians everywhere and very particularly in New Providence Island, have long complained that crime in our country is at unacceptably high levels.
And, we know also that Bahamians have for long years now complained that the judicial system is too slow; that it continues to lumber under antiquated laws, processes and procedures that contribute to delays in our legal and judicial system.
The crime reports from New Providence are most troubling because these reports are increasingly of violent crime, senseless crime, against both person and property. But, Honourable Members will also recall that only two weeks ago Eleuthera was confronted with the dreadful murder of yet another upstanding member of the local community.
The Honourable Member for Mt. Moriah, last week provided details on crime statistics for this year up to September. They are disturbing statistics. What is even more disturbing is that the numbers are not an aberration. It’s not that this year is a bad year among decades of low crime figures.
The level of criminality in our society has been on a constant rise since the hey-day of the drug crimes in the 1980’s interrupted only occasionally by small dips in the number of crimes reported annually.
No one can believe and we do not believe that these legislative amendments to the Juries Act will bring to an end with one stroke of the pen all of the inefficiencies in our judicial system. That would be simplistic, naive and a pipe dream.
That is but one of the things that we promised in our Manifesto when we ran for office. We said an FNM government will amend the Juries Act to allow for smaller juries in non-capital criminal cases.
That was our position then. We’d take a similar position when we were in office the last time and we were persuaded then by members of the Opposition not to proceed.
We’ve had years to consider their objections. I had five years out there to consider this and I gave it my most mature consideration and I took advice on the matter. And we’ve now decided to do what we are doing.
And when they say we have not consulted anyone that is not true either, Mr. Speaker. I personally spoke to the Chief Justice of The Bahamas on this matter before the Bill came to the House.
The amendment of this Act must not to be taken in isolation and should not be taken by anyone as a universal remedy or cure for either our continuing crime problem or for our less than efficient judicial system.
We are engaged in a process to improve the quality of life for Bahamians. We are also committed as we said in our Manifesto, to take steps to ensure compliance with the constitutional requirements of fair trials of all persons charged with criminal offenses within a reasonable period of time.
I would hold my head down in shame, Mr. Speaker, if at the end of my five year term, there are 100-plus persons charged with murder who I could not cause to be tried within two years. I would be ashamed of myself. I would say to the Bahamian people ‘I am a failure’. And my punishment of being voted out of office is minor – I should get more major punishment than that.
We are taking steps to reduce the level of criminality in our society through a host of interventions. Those interventions will involve a myriad of activities and initiatives.
I had the occasion on Friday past, Mr. Speaker, in bidding farewell to three retiring senior officers of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, to thank them for their long years of service – cumulatively they gave some 120 years of service to the Force.
I do not believe that our crime rate is a result of poor policing.
Indeed, I believe that we have first class men and women on our police force. They do yeoman’s service every day to protect our communities.
The Member for Mount Moriah told us last week that the percentage of persons arrested in connection with new crimes that are out on bail continues to rise.
The police catch the criminals Mr. Speaker, we just do a poor job of getting cases heard and determined by the Courts in a timely manner, and when convicted, we do a less than adequate job at rehabilitating convicts so that they might become productive members of the community upon release.
So the police are not to blame.
Mind you, I believe that our police do not always receive the support which they deserve from the community. We must stop protecting criminals Mr. Speaker, even when they are our loved ones.
And we must ensure that the police are provided with the tools required to respond to the increasing load placed on them by the ever changing demands of sophisticated crime.
So, we will continue to strengthen the police force by providing it with the funding, the manpower and the technology (communication and investigation) necessary for them to carry out their mandate to protect our communities.
And, while the Ministry of National Security accelerates initiatives to strengthen the rehabilitative programme in our prison, most especially for first time, non-violent offenders other Government Ministries and Departments will be charged with improving their supportive role.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development will continue and expand discussions with church leaders on how best Government and Church might cooperate to address the problem of crime in our community.
The Ministry of Education is involved in the structuring of additional programmes to inculcate in our youngsters a preference for non-violent resolution of conflict and a greater appreciation and respect for the property of others.
Simultaneously, the Ministry of Education is placing greater emphasis on learning driven education and strengthening the technical and vocational education and training available in our secondary schools and at the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI).
The Departments of Youth and Sports and Culture will expand programmes that support and promote positive recreational activities.
And, the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs will continue a methodic and thorough review of our laws so as to assist us in their modernization and hence, improved efficiency.
Honourable Members are aware that a judicial enhancement programme has been in train for some time now. Clearly, we have not moved significantly swiftly to cause the desired result.
When I last had the privilege and the honour to lead the Government of our country the Government acted to increase the number of Magistrates’ Courts in New Providence and in Abaco we put in place stipendiary and circuitry Magistrates. We did likewise in Freeport where we provided a Supreme Court for the first time in the history of our country.
We increased the number of sitting Magistrates and increased the number of Supreme Court Justices.
We caused the computerisation of the records of our Courts in an attempt to increase and improve the efficiency and timeliness of the judicial system.
We upgraded the law library of the Court of Appeal. We made the Court of Appeal a full time court.
We enacted legislation meant to regularize the compensation and pensions of Judges so as to ensure that judges receive appropriate compensation for the difficult task they perform for the community.
The previous government neglected to follow the law and appoint a commission in a timely manner to review the salary of judges.
We restructured the Office of the Attorney General and provided for the engagement of increased numbers of lawyers so that the OAG might more effectively deal with heavy court demands.
We increased the number of police stations; improved police communications; built a new Northern Headquarters for the Police in Grand Bahama, and acquired additional police vehicles and a new Force Garage to help keep the police visible in the community.
We renewed and expanded police community action programmes with the intent of bringing our youth into contact with law enforcement officers on a positive, social basis and not leaving that first contact with the police to a time when one may have run afoul of the law.
Not all of our initiatives and programmes were continued during the past five years; but many were with various levels of success.
I believe that in some instances in the recent past a great deal of emphasis was placed on Public Relations and insufficient emphasis was placed on causing tangible change.
We need not revisit the ill-fated “Swift Justice” initiative of the last Administration; nor do we need to re-examine the failure of the last administration to effectively deal with the Judges Remuneration and Pension Act. Much less, do we need to draw attention to the fact that media hype about urban renewal and/or a supposed new-fangled community policing programme seldom bring results on the ground. That is all water under the bridge.
Urban Renewal needs structure, and structure is what it will receive.
The Government that I am again privileged to lead seeks to implement its Trust Agenda as promised the people in our Manifesto 2007.
In addition to the various targeted programmes which my Government will pursue through its agencies and departments during this term in office, my Government will, during the course of this Session, come to Parliament with a series of Bills to help to bolster our ability to deal with crime.
The proposed amendment to the Juries Act is but one component of what must be done to modernize the judicial system and make it more efficient.
The amendments proposed are not radical; they have been adopted and implemented in many neighbouring jurisdictions and have proven helpful.
I had the occasion to tell a few of my members the other day, that if we ever bring a Bill to this House and members opposite say that they are supporting it, let’s look at it very carefully. Because I have come to accept that if we say its day, they will say its night.
They have not yet come to terms with their new station in life. Once they would have done so we will have a different relationship in this parliament, but until such time we don’t expect any agreement from them on anything of consequence in this place.
And so I have tried Mr. Speaker, not to be distracted by the theatrics and headline grabbing tactics of some Members Opposite who I hope support these amendments to their heart, but who have used this debate to grand stand about nothing in particular and everything in general.
I propose not to let those antics distract those of us in this place, those from both sides of this Honourable House hopefully, who are serious in our commitment to move forward; to amend our laws; to remove obstacles to efficiencies and to introduce improved processes, all with a view to a more responsive and efficient judicial system.
Mr. Speaker, the Free National Movement has come back to office to complete the unfinished task of addressing a paralyzed criminal justice system.
That is bequest we received upon coming to office. They couldn’t fix it while they were in, we don’t expect them to be helpful to us in fixing it now that they are out. They left the judicial system in a much worse position than when they met it.
I pledge to The Bahamas that when we leave office we will be in a better position than we are in today.
We will labour to create an atmosphere in our country that promotes respect for law and order and a desire to be productive.
It is a national disgrace that the Progressive Liberal Party spent five years in office and left the judicial system in the mess that it is in today.
Mr. Speaker, I support the Bill.