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BAHAMAS: Public Works Minister supports Witness Anonymity Amendment Bill

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#Bahamas, April 24, 2018 – Nassau – The Hon. Desmond Bannister, Minister of Public Works, called on members of the House of Assembly to unite in their opposition to murderers, drug dealers and human traffickers, and underscored that Parliament will leave “no stone unturned” in its efforts to empower the courts to convict those who are truly guilty of such “heinous” crimes.

Minister Bannister addressed the Criminal Evidence (witness anonymity) Amendment Bill, 2018 in the House of Assembly, Wednesday, April 18, 2018.  He described the Bill as a “very critical” amendment to criminal law, which is meant to make a difference for all who have respect for the rule of law, and who have confidence in the delivery of justice.  “It is a very short Bill, but it has the potential to change lives and to save lives. This is a very serious debate,” he said.

“Over the past decade vicious criminals and criminal gangs have sought to subvert justice by intimidating witnesses all over the world. They have threatened and murdered witnesses, and in the process they created a climate of fear for many persons who have witnessed criminal activity, and who wish to give evidence in the courts.”

Minister Bannister cited R. v. Davis, a case decided in the English House of Lords in 2008. He said just 33 days after the decision on 21st July, 2008 the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act became the law in England. That Act permitted anonymous witnesses to give evidence in court in certain circumstances.

He also recalled that in response to gang related crime and the terrorizing of witnesses, and in order to protect the credibility of the judicial system, the Bahamas Parliament passed a Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act in 2011 which became law on November 3rd, 2011.

“Subject to certain protections, the law now permits a Magistrate to grant an Order which prohibits the disclosure of information that may lead to the identification of who may be willing to assist the authorities in very serious cases such as murder; manslaughter; rape; robbery while being armed with a firearm or offensive instrument; and certain Dangerous drugs, Anti-Terrorism and Trafficking in persons offenses.  The Order is usually made if the person has a reasonable ground for fearing that they may be subject to intimidation or harm if they are identified as someone who is able or willing to assist in the investigation.

“The law also permits the courts to protect witnesses by ensuring that their identity is not disclosed.  In this respect, the court may order that the name of the witness and other identifying details are withheld; that the witness may use a pseudonym; that the witness is not asked any questions that may his identification; that he be screened; and finally that his voice may be subject to modulation.

“I am advised by the Attorney General, Sir, that this Act has been a valuable tool in the war on crime, particularly in this day and age where gangs seek to intimidate and threaten witnesses.  Our criminal justice system must be protected, Sir, and we as lawmakers must seek to continuously improve the law so that we may live in a society where the Rule of Law is respected, and where every person can feel safe.

“We are seeking to amend the law because of a recent decision of the Court of Appeal, much as the English lawmakers responded to the decision in the Davis case,” he said.

Minister Bannister stated that in the decision, the accused man was convicted, but the Court of Appeal recently set his conviction aside and ordered a new trial, and in the process observed that “By section 11(4) the court cannot require the witness to be screened to such an extent that the witness cannot be seen by the magistrate, the judge or other members of the court (if any) or the jury if there is one”.

He explained that Parliament is presently seeking to amend section 11(4) of the Act so that the prosecutor or the defendant may apply to the judge to permit a witness to be seen and heard in his natural voice by a magistrate, magistrate’s panel or by the judge, but not the prosecutor, the defendant or his attorney, or by the jury.

Minister Bannister pointed out the possibility of a weakness in the Bill. “We appreciate that the proposed amendment may have a weakness.  It will permit a judge in appropriate cases to screen the witness from the sight of the jury.  I want to invite members to consider this as we debate the amendment.  On the one hand, Article 20(2)(g) of our Constitution gives everyone who is charged before the Supreme Court the right to trial by jury.  So a very legitimate question that we may ask is whether the making of such an Order would constitute a constitutional infringement.  Some may argue that the courts will strike this amendment down as unconstitutional as it relates to Supreme Court trials, since as the triers of fact jurors are entitled to see the demeanor of a witness, and to judge their reactions as they answer questions.”

He said the government has a duty to do its best to protect witnesses who are brave enough to give evidence against murderers, drug dealers, human traffickers and other despicable criminals who would otherwise get away.

“At the end of the day we take the position that we will do our duty in this place, and then listen as the courts make their determination.  However, we must try, and in this respect, Sir, I am comforted by the fact that section 13 of the Act outlines rigorous conditions and circumstances that must be complied with before a judge may make an Order, and even where an order is made section 16 requires the judge to issue a warning to the jury.

“I have looked at other similar legislation, and I cannot find any country that has taken this bold step; but as I mentioned earlier we are a unique country. We have a small population and live in close-knit communities.  Persons on the jury are bound to know who the witness is, and also who the accused is.  The question that had to be considered was whether the identity of an anonymous witness could be deliberately or inadvertently disclosed.

He asked members to consider two possible “extreme” outcomes.

“First, the amendment could lead to the conviction of some violent, nasty criminals and also lead to their incarceration and the protection of our society; or conversely it could be struck down and we may have to spend another day in this place amending the law.”

 

By: Kathryn Campbell (BIS)

 

 

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Statement From Hon. Fred Mitchell, MP Minister of Foreign Affairs On the Passing of Colin Powell

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#TheBahamas, October 18, 2021 – I learned this morning  of the death of Colin Powell, the American general and diplomat. I worked with him as Foreign Minister in my first term, particularly on issues related to Haiti.

Yesterday in the CARICOM meeting, I recalled while discussing Haiti his role in the crisis of that time. I recall his life, times and work as generally thoughtful and considered. He was also an example of Caribbean success in America, one to emulate. He was the son of Jamaican parents. He was an example of success as a Black man in America. I am saddened by his passing.

On behalf of the Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Davis, the government and people of The Bahamas, and in my own behalf, I extend condolences to the United States of America and his family.

 

 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Commonwealth of The Bahamas

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CARPHA Team undertakes Assessment of Guyana’s National Surveillance System for Non-communicable Diseases

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October 14, 2021 – The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) conducted a technical mission to Guyana from September 22nd – 25th, 2021 to undertake site visits as a part of an ongoing assessment of six (6) Member States’ systems for the national surveillance of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and their risk factors. This activity was implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Health Guyana through an Agence Française de Développement (AFD) – funded project.

The aim of the assessment s to provide evidence in support of the development of a Regional Surveillance System for NCDs, a priority under the regional health framework Caribbean Cooperation in Health IV (2016-2025).

During the mission, the CARPHA technical team reviewed the capacity of existing surveillance mechanisms in Guyana to collect, analyse and report on the NCDs and risk factor indicators proposed for the regional surveillance system. These indicators were recommended by a multi-stakeholder meeting series convened in 2020 under the AFD project, which reviewed global, regional, and sub-regional mandates, targets and practices in surveillance for the prevention and control of NCDs.

The CARPHA Team along with senior officials from the Ministry of Health conducted visits to two (2) health centres, the National Cancer Registry, Ministry of Health Surveillance, and Statistics Unit.  The results from the overall assessment will be presented to the Ministry of Health Guyana and will also be reviewed alongside results from similar assessments in Anguilla, Aruba, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname to inform the finalisation of the regional surveillance system design through a regional stakeholder meeting.

The regional NCDs surveillance system would facilitate the reporting and availability of data to inform policy development, planning, and tracking of progress towards meeting for targets NCDs at Regional and National levels.

Through funding from the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), CARPHA is leading the Region in Strengthening Strategic Intelligence and Partnership Approaches to prevent and control NCDs and Strengthen Regional Health Security in the Caribbean. This project, signed in 2019 with a value of €1,500,000.00, demonstrates the commitment of the Government of France and the French people to supporting the public health priorities of the Caribbean Community through CARPHA.

More information on the Project can be found at: https://www.carpha.org/Projects/Ongoing-Projects/Strengthening-Strategic-Intelligence-and-Partnership-Approaches-To-Prevent-and-Control-NCDs-and-Strengthen-Regional-Health-Security-In-The-Caribbean

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World Sight Day: Love Your Eyes

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Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.  14 October, 2021.  In the Caribbean, the leading causes of blindness are glaucoma, cataract and diabetic retinopathy (a complication of diabetes).  According to the Vision Atlas, 6.2 million persons in the Caribbean were reported to have vision loss, with an estimated 260,000 persons reported to be blind in 2020.

Information gathered from eighteen (18) Caribbean countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago) with a population of 44 million, showed that the crude prevalence of blindness was 0.60%, and the prevalence of all vision loss was 13.20%. Many of the persons affected were females at 52%.

Global statistics reveal that for 2020, a total of 596 million persons had distance vision impairment worldwide, of this number 43 million were blind.  Projections for 2050, indicate that an estimated 885 million persons may be affected by distance vision impairment with 61 million expected to experience  blindness.

CARPHA’s vision for the Caribbean is a region where the health and wellness of the people are promoted and protected from disease, injury and disability, thereby enabling human development in keeping with the belief that the health of the Region is the wealth of the Region.

Although there are no projects that directly address vision impairment, CARPHA in collaboration with its public health partners is implementing initiatives to address risk factors such as unhealthy diets, use of harmful substances and poor physical activities. This in turn, will help reduce the risk of disability due to complications associated with poor blood sugar and blood pressure management.

Efforts to improve the standards of care for diabetes through the implementation of the CARPHA Guidelines on the Management of Diabetes in Primary Care in the Caribbean, and training of health care workers from the CARPHA Member States will also contribute to the prevention of vision impairment and blindness due to diabetes.

Access to eye care services can reduce visual impairment.  CARPHA urges Member States to strengthen health systems to improve eye health services with emphasis on reaching the vulnerable and those most in need.  Governments should commit to integrating eye care into the universal health care system.

World Sight Day is celebrated annually on the second Thursday in October.  The focus of the day is to bring awareness to blindness and vision impairment as a major public health issue and blindness prevention.

The 2021 commemoration observed on 14th October, seeks to encourage persons to think about the ‘importance of their own eye health.’

Our eyes are working hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been indoors, in front of our screens, and probably missed our eye test appointments. Now more than ever, we need to protect and prioritize our eyesight. There are simple things you can do for yourself to prevent the development of serious eye issues:

  • Take screen breaks for at least five minutes every hour
  • Spend time outside.  Increased outdoor time can reduce the risk of myopia (near-sightedness)[3]
  • Get an eye test. A complete eye exam can detect eye conditions such as glaucoma before it has an effect on your sight. The earlier an eye condition is identified, the easier it is to treat.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet and engage in physical activity. These are crucial steps in maintaining a healthy weight, controlling obesity, and preventing diseases such as diabetes, all of which can impact eye health.
  • If you have diabetes, you should have your eyes checked every year

Your sight cannot be taken for granted.  It is time to LOVE YOUR EYES!

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