Legal move makes it easier for indigent prisoners to access bail

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By Theresa Goodwin

[email protected]

An amendment to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court’s (ECSE) civil procedures rules is making it easier for prisoners on remand who cannot afford legal representation, to apply for bail on their own behalf.

Attorney-at-law Wendel Robinson told Observer that, under normal circumstances, a prisoner who is on remand pending the outcome of his or her matter, would be required to pay a lawyer between EC$2,500 and EC$3,500 to apply to the High Court for bail on their behalf, in addition to filing fees that are charged by the court.

To help prisoners without the means to pay for legal counsel, the ECSE has adopted a special form — which Observer understands was designed by High Court Judge Justice Iain Morley QC with assistance from former Crown Counsel Adlai Smith — which in essence waives the fee associated with obtaining bail.

The Bail Application form for Indigent or Unrepresented Persons and the Practice Direction pursuant to Rule 4.2 (2) of ECSC Civil Procedure Rules 2000 was signed by Chief Justice Dame Janice Pereira on April 17 2020 and took effect in all member states and territories on the 27th of that same month.

Under the new rule, a person who is in custody, is indigent or is not represented by a legal practitioner, could make an application for bail using the form.

The applicant is required to fill in all sections of the form in the presence of a Commissioner of Oaths, Justice of the Peace, senior prison officer, police officer or notary public. Once the application is signed, the individual who stands by as witness will be required to affix their signature to the appropriate section.

Signed and completed forms should be turned over to a prison officer who must then make the necessary arrangements for the application to be sent to the court for filing and processing.

The fees associated with the application for a vulnerable person are exempted with the use of the form.

Robinson welcomed the changes, noting that it is an improvement to the country’s justice system.

“It’s already in place in several countries internationally, but is new in Antigua and it is certainly very good and augers well for the judicial system,” Robinson said.

He said, in some cases, attorneys have assisted remand prisoners for free when they come to court to make their case for bail.

Legal Affairs Minister Steadroy Benjamin said, “The government is trying to make it easier for persons to access bail in these trying times, especially where persons are not financially able. It is our intention to extend Legal Aid in matters such as this and former Crown Counsel Adlai Smith is now presently working on that situation for us,” Benjamin said.

Robinson revealed that a number of individuals have already benefitted from the procedural change since it was imposed. He also stated that six out of the 10 people who have applied for bail have been successful.

The ECSC serves the OECS sub-region, to include six independent states and three British Overseas Territories. The new measure is therefore applicable in all member states and where the court has unlimited jurisdiction.

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