BAHAMIAN OUT ISLANDS – A PLACE WHERE JUSTICE IS NOT BLIND FOR ALL!

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Minister V. Alfred Gray told the public and Parliament he did nothing wrong following what transpired in his constituency!
Minister V. Alfred Gray told the public and Parliament he did nothing wrong following what transpired in his constituency!
 
Dear Editor:

        There is a saying in Law to the effect that not only must justice be done, but also perceived to be done. President Elsworth Johnson reminded us this week that justice must be “fair, independent and fearless!” This out cry out for justice says that there needs to be peace in society. 
 
            However, there can be no peace according to reggae superstar Peter Tosh “until there is Equal Rights and Justice for all!”  What is defined as “justice”, however, all too often depends on your social status in life here in the Bahamas.  Usually if you are rich, white, foreign, privileged and can afford access to an Attorney,  the concept of justice is completely different than if  you are poor, black and from ”Over the Hill” with no access to proper legal advice!. Just examine the two different cases below that clearly illustrate this point.

          The concept of “justice” in the Out Islands is a grey area. Usually the duties of a Magistrate are conducted by an Island Administrator, being coached by someone in Nassau. He is not an Attorney and may not have had any previous legal training with the exception of a brief crash course as part of his Administrator training. In islands where crime is rare, there is little opportunity for the Administrator to exercise his duties as a Magistrate. In many Out Island jurisdictions, a Defendant, being ignorant of the Law, all too often has the perception that “justice” was not done as the sentence may be excessive. Far too often in the Out Islands, the Defendant has no legal representation. With a judicial system filled with loopholes and tricky legal maneuvers, a Defendant is at the mercy of a system that sometimes the public feels may not be blind. The cry then is that something must be done to protect the constitutional rights of the persons subjected to such an unjust system of justice. 

              For most of the Out Islands, Attorneys are available only at a hefty cost. Travel to the Out Island, the per diem for taking the day off to come to the island and their fees put legal services out of the financial reach of most defendants. There are few options in terms of fairness in the judicial proceedings and the  defendant can only depend on the mercy of the court. The sad  reality is that due process is not in favour of an unrepresented defendant. As  a result, the public perception in many Out Island communities is that “justice” is not done as the punishment or the sentencing imposed by the Magistrate is extreme and far exceeds the criminal or civil damage. With no other recourse when there is a perceived miscarriage of “Justice”, the usual public outcry is to approach the Member of Parliament to assist or speak with someone in government!

          The unfortunate situation that happened in Mayaguana last year during a judicial proceeding that resulted in the resignation of the Minister for Local Government, the Honorable V. Alfred Gray, is a textbook example of what can go wrong on a Family Island. Sadly, the Opposition Free National Movement (FNM) is trying to politically exploit this unfortunate situation. Either they do not understand the Laws of the Bahamas or the Constitution. However, regarding the accepted facts of the Mayaguana case, anyone of them with any degree of reasonable firmness would immediately agree that their illogical position on this matter is without merit. Their recent actions by the FNM, such as picketing the office of the Honorable V.  Alfred Gray and walking out of Parliament, are nothing short of a national embarrassment. Their claim of political interference by Local Government Minister, the Honorable V. Alfred Gray, is nothing short of a pie in the sky by a group desperately seeking power. 

              In the Mayaguana case, a nineteen (19) year old man who had never been previously convicted off any criminal offense was charged with assault of a Police Officer and resisting arrest. There was no offer of Bail to the Defendant. Within an hour, he was convicted by a court where the Administrator acted as Magistrate and the same Police Officer who had charged the defendant acted as Prosecutor. The Defendant was then sentenced to three (3) months imprisonment. In other words, the same parties acted as Judge, Prosecutor and Jury!  This proceeding absolutely violates the Constitutional Rights of the Defendant. This wasn’t swift justice; this was instant injustice! In addition, for a first time offender, this punishment appears prima facie excessive. The Defendant had no Legal Counsel as flights into Mayaguana are only twice a week. Any appeal of this case would have to be done at the Supreme Court in Nassau. A desperate mother of the Defendant, in a last ditch effort to seek justice, did what every one in her position would do on an Out Island: that is call her Member of Parliament. 
 
In this unique case, the MP happened to be the Minister of Local Government and the boss of the Administrator.  The record shows that Minister Gray called the Administrator to discuss this perverse case. The Defendant was released. Obviously, Minister Gray brought to the Administrator’s attention the defects of this case. After all, by virtue of his office, Minister Gray is vicariously liable and responsible for the actions of his Administrators. In a civil action against the Administrator, Minister Gray could have been named as a co-Defendant by  the Defendant. The bottom line in this matter is that Mayaguana has just a few hundred people, mostly elderly and crime free. This Administrator has had very little experience with criminal proceedings.  

        On the other hand, compare the Mayaguana case with another case that occurred several years ago when the FNM was the government. The hypocrisy and contradiction makes one wonder if Bahamian justice is truly blind. The Barefoot Bandit case has left legal experts wondering if the Bahamian justice system is nothing short of a kangaroo court, manipulated and controlled by politicians. This included the Prime Minister, National Security Minister, Attorney General, etc whose extreme political interference made a mockery of the judicial system. The Barefoot Bandit case disqualifies anyone associated with the former FNM Government to claim with any moral authority political interference in the Mayaguana case.

          The Barefoot Bandit was a career criminal who was on the FBI’s ten most wanted list for two years with a ten thousand ($10,000.00) dollar reward for information leading to his capture. Due to his large stature, he had difficulty finding shoes that could fit him (size 15). He crashlanded a stolen plane in Abaco and began a crime wave like that island had never seen. In just a few days, the Abaco Police indicated that they had sufficient evidence tying the Barefoot Bandit to almost twenty crimes. These crimes included everything from burglary, housebreaking, trespassing, stealing, car theft, boat theft, etc. These crimes made the daily evening news and so the Bahamian public was fully updated with the criminal activities of this culprit.  

           The capture of the Barefoot Bandit took place early Sunday morning on the Independence holiday weekend, with the holiday being on the Monday. All governmental offices were closed, including that of the Attorney General. The following morning, the Bahamas was shocked to see the Barefoot Bandit at the Magistrate Court in Nassau. This meant that the office of the Attorney General and the Judiciary worked overtime on Independence Day to accommodate this privileged criminal. However, the absurdity that stunned the Bahamian people occurred when the public was informed that, despite the strong evidence about numerous crimes, the only crime that the Barefoot Bandit would be charged with was that of illegal entry, punishable by just a three hundred ($300.00) dollar fine for illegal entry unto the Bahamas. In addition, he would be deported.

          How on God’s earth in the Bahamas, a nation claiming to be a land of Law and Order, can such a miscarriage of justice take place? In a country where everyone is equal in the eyes of the Law, there exists such a double standard? Is it because he was white and foreign that he received special treatment under the FNM government, unlike the black boy in Mayaguana? Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham further insulted the intelligence of Bahamians, and especially the police, when he claimed that “there is not a shred of credible evidence linking the Barefoot Bandit to any crime in the Bahamas!” This outright lie by Prime Minister Ingraham only served to undermine the efforts of the hardworking and dedicated Royal Bahamas Police Force. The FBI with all of its resources couldn’t catch the Barefoot Bandit! Yet within two weeks of entering the Bahamas, the Royal Bahamas Police Force was able to capture him. Rather than commend them, Prime Minister Ingraham openly criticized and discredited the Royal Bahamas Police Force. This was a complete disgrace and it demonstrates the intimate level of political interference in the justice system.  The next time the FNM MPs walk out of Parliament in protest over the Mayaguana situation, bring these facts to their attention!



 
Best regards

Dr. Leatendore Percentie