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Paul H. Farquharson, Chairman of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee.

Chairman of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee, Former Police Commissioner, Paul H. Farquharson, is eager to get the message out to Bahamian citizens who are either young offenders (under the age of 21), or first time offenders, of minor offences, about the existence of the Committee, and the opportunity they now have to get their records expunged.

To be clear, he noted that there were a number of major offences that the Committee could not assist with.  “Under the amendment there are some records that cannot be expunged,” explained Mr. Farquharson, “There are seven of them, including; murder, manslaughter, treason, armed robbery, rape, unlawful carnal knowledge, and possession with intent to supply (marijuana – ten pounds or more, and cocaine, heroin or other hard drugs – two pounds or more).  These cannot be dealt with by this committee.”

If an offender was convicted of any one of those major offences, and required their record to be expunged, they would have to apply to the Prerogative of Mercy Committee, Chaired by the Minister of National Security, the Attorney General, and three other appointees, he advised.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee, which was formally appointed in September of 2019, hit the ground running, shared the Chairman.  “Prior to the appointment of the Committee there was inactivity with the whole question of expungement.  We have addressed the backlog, and it’s cleared.  There were a number of persons who had applied to the Ministry of National Security for expungement.  That process is now complete.  We have had a number of persons appear before us seeking expungement, and the process of those applications are in train as we sit here.”

“This Committee will operate in strict adherence to the law and there is complete transparency in the process,” he shared.  “The members of this Committee of five persons, of which I serve as Chair, were appointed by the Governor General for three years, according to law.  The members include; the president of the Bar Association, Mr. Kahlil Parker; the Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese, Father Kenny Forbes; Pastor of the Living Waters Church, Reverend Kamesha Morley; and Mr. Michael Russell, Rotarian and Businessman.

“The average person on the street needs to know what expungement means,” said the Chairman.  “It simply means that your record in law – if an individual has breached the laws, and the offence is now recorded on his/her police record, and that person has since spent time or paid a fine – and that has been recorded.  After that process, the Committee or the State (government), has a duty to make that person whole again.  That record would be spent – cleared permanently.”

For the process of applying, he said, “This Committee falls under the purview of the Ministry of National Security, and the process for applying for expungement is as follows:

1. A person can collect and fill out an application form in duplicate, supplying two references, and follow all additional guidelines outlined on the form
2. That application and all accompanying information, once received by the Ministry of National Security, which is the clearing house for the Committee – the process starts
3. There are three requests for reports sent out – to the Department of Corrections, the Police Records Office, and the Department of Social Services
4. Once all of those reports are received by the Committee, along with the application and accompanying information, then the Committee would review the reports and come to a conclusion.
5. The expungement – yea or nay is decided, and a recommendation is made to the Minister for final decision
6. Once the Minister has agreed to the expungement, that approval is sent to the Criminal Records Office of the Police, and the record is officially expunged

That is the process in a nutshell.”

He continued, “While it took four years for the 2015 amendment to the law to be actioned, this is a very progressive piece of legislation.  We have expungements going on now, but we’re moving to modernize the whole process, and bring it into the international standards of expungement of records.  In other countries, from the time you make an application to the end process, sometimes it takes a year.  I want to accelerate that process, because so many people have been disadvantaged in our society.  From the time a person makes the application to the end decision, I want it to be a six-month period.

“There are people in this society for a number of years, and I’m talking thousands of people, who have paid their due debt to society, and cannot get any relief.  Simply because they may not know the process, or may have doubts as to whether they are qualified to have expungement take place.  I am ensuring members of the public, through the educational program, town hall meetings, and the media – receives this message.  This cuts across the entire Bahamas.  There are many people in the Family Islands that are victims, they’ve paid their due debt, and may not know the process.

“We have an obligation, under the law, to make things right for those persons.  Some people can’t get jobs because of a criminal record, and we have examples of that.  Students can’t go to College, because they incurred minor infractions of the law, and their record is there – so, they cannot get a visa to travel, even though they have been accepted into a university – we also have examples of that.  Sometimes persons cannot get a bank loan, because of some financial institutions requiring police records, and when they see the checkered background, they think twice about extending credit.

“So, this is affecting the entire society, across the board, and we want the message to go out to one and all.  Almost every family has been touched.  If you know of anyone in society who may need help, we are willing as a committee to reach out and help them.

“Because of us being an archipelagic country.  If, for example, there are ten or fifteen applicants on an island.  I’ve asked the government to provide the resources to have members fly down to the individual islands, to hear the applications, so the applicants don’t have to incur the expenses of coming into the city.  I think that makes good sense, so, we can assist those individuals where ever they are in the islands.  That’s what I intend to do as Chairman.”

For further information, readers can contact the Program Administrator at the Ministry of National Security, Ms Ann Ferguson at (242) 502-3300.