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Automatic jail for repeat child offenders

By Andre Bagoo Sunday, January 12 2014

THE SCOPE of proposed legislation aimed at widening the net of persons who can be denied bail upon charge was extended early yesterday morning to include child offenders who now stand to be denied bail for 120 days if they are charged with a repeat offence within a decade.

The Bail (Amendment) Bill 2013 was passed early yesterday morning after a marathon sitting of Parliament.

It was passed by a margin of 27 Government votes for, 10 Opposition votes against and one abstention from the Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner.

PNM San Fernando East MP Patrick Manning and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley were not present when the vote was taken early yesterday morning at about 1.06am. A three-fifths majority in the 41-seat chamber was required.

The legislation, which now moves to the Senate, was passed with several amendments. During the committee stage a sunset clause, capping its lifespan to three years, was added.

Also, offences under the Children’s Act were brought within the legislation’s ambit, meaning persons who are convicted of an offence against a child and are later charged with a similar offence within a decade of that conviction may be denied bail for an initial 120 days, before getting a chance to apply to a judge in chambers. The legislation only applies to adults.

An amendment circulated in the Parliament chamber read, “In the list of Specified Offences, insert (u) any offence under the Children’s Act of any act replacing or repealing it.” The Children’s Act lists a range of offences ranging from child cruelty; suffocation of infants; exposing children to risks and child prostitution.

Additionally, a clause was inserted stating that if the new charge comes “within ten years after the completion of the sentence imposed” in respect of the earlier conviction, then the provisions apply.

At the same time, the scope of the legislation was also reduced with gang offences being taken out of its ambit. Kidnapping and kidnapping for ransom was also taken out of the net of specified offences.

In wrapping debate of the bill, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan criticised the Opposition for its lack of support. He stated the Government was willing to entertain amendments to the legislation and said the PNM’s position was inconsistent with the party’s voting history in previous administrations.

During the division for the vote, the clerk wrongly reported the results to the Speaker as being 27 votes for, 8 votes against and one abstention. In fact, ten PNM MPs had voted against the legislation: Whip Marlene Mc Donald; Laventille West MP NiLeung Hypolite; Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert; La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey; St Joseph MP Terrence Deyalsingh; St Ann’s East MP Alicia Thomas; Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon; Port-of-Spain North St Ann’s West MP Patricia McIntosh and Diego Martin Central MP Amery Browne.

At the end of the sitting yesterday morning, Speaker Wade Mark corrected the error, stating the correct results of the division. However, yesterday morning, the wrong results (27 for, 8 against) appeared on the Parliament’s official website.

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