Anyone who values personal freedom and the swift execution of justice should be deeply concerned by today’s front page story: A Compass investigation reveals that 99 people in the Cayman Islands were being held on pre-charge bail at the end of 2017, including 14 people who had been living under a cloud of suspicion – and without judicial oversight – for more than a year.
Although none had been formally charged with any crime, police suspected them to have been involved in crimes as minor as traffic infractions, or as grave as conspiracy to murder. During their tenure on police bail, they have no way of knowing when – or even if – they would be given an opportunity to clear their names, or be called into court to account for their misdeeds.
We accept that “police bail” can be a useful tool for law enforcement in the early stages of criminal investigation. It is a means for officers to prevent suspects from disappearing while they collect evidence needed to bring a formal charge.
But with no judicial oversight, and no end in sight, police bail gives investigators potentially unchecked power to monitor or restrict the movement of private individuals – including foreign nationals, whose passports may be seized, forcing them to remain on island, often without employment, and sometimes separated from family members overseas. A cloud of suspicion hovers over these citizens while postponing their opportunity to prove their innocence. It delays (and can even deny) adjudication and punishment for those who can indeed be proven guilty of their crimes.
If it is true that people operate by incentive (and we believe it is), current rules governing police bail in Cayman are calibrated poorly. Rather than encouraging swift and thorough criminal investigation, the status quo allows police to keep suspects on a string – indefinitely.
Local attorney Amelia Fosuhene, who favors stronger restrictions on police bail, said: “A time limit would focus the police to do their jobs and to do it efficiently.”
Last year, U.K. lawmakers voted to curtail significantly the use of police bail to a maximum of 28 days before requiring approval of senior officers or a court. In the interests of personal freedom and public safety, Cayman’s lawmakers should consider following (or at least studying) our sovereign’s lead.
The good news is that our law enforcement leaders appear to agree on a potential shift in this public policy.
Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said a review of the procedures would be “timely,” while Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards said her office is reviewing the U.K.’s reforms and will work with police to make recommendations for possible changes in Cayman.
Several attorneys interviewed by the Compass said they supported limiting the use of police bail.
As criminal defense lawyer Lee Halliday-Davis said, “If you have someone that wants to travel or start a new job, or to get on with their lives, it is hanging over their heads constantly. It means they can’t get on with their lives, and it keeps them in limbo.”
Clearly, the time has come to limit and clarify the time Cayman’s residents can be forced to spend on police bail – or at least to have their case heard before a judge.