Sending the right message

Guyana Chronicle
January 27, 2000

WE WELCOME the firm stand on the matter of sentences fitting the crime signalled by the forthright statement the government issued yesterday.

We last week noted that the one-year jail term imposed in the arms and ammunition container case was atrociously lenient and wondered about the rationale in the sentencing policy.

The justice system in modern society is that the punishment must fit the crime and the danger in a policy that does not seem to have rhyme or reason is that the public at large will soon begin to lose faith in the administration of justice in the country.

The judiciary is one of the main pillars in a democratic society and such a society would be on extremely shaky ground if its citizens begin to doubt that it is fair and efficient.

There has been far too much scorn already heaped on the judicial system and those in charge of administering it have to begin to do more than just make the right noises at the appropriate time.

In this regard, yesterday's announcement that President Bharrat Jagdeo is alarmed that the punishment meted out by local courts does not, in too many cases, fit the crime, is a welcome indication that the administration is determined to do more than just talk.

The President and Cabinet are clearly conscious about not wanting to be seen to be interfering in the workings of the judiciary which should be independent of political and other influences.

According to the statement, the Government of Guyana, "while recognising the constitutional restraints implicit in the Separation of Powers, views (the gross disparity in sentences) as a disturbing trend that undermines the rule of law and good governance of our society".

And that is the danger to the fledgling democracy here - trends that could undermine the rule of law and good governance.

There are already signs that opponents of the government are ready to blame the administration for the obvious disparities in their haste to score political points without grounds on which to base their accusations.

Civil society should also be making its voice heard on such a crucial issue to back the government on its determination to ensure the system is seen to be fair and evenly balanced.

There can be no argument with the conclusion that the lack of severity of sentences for serious offences, including gun-running, "flies in the face of public policy that criminals must pay for their crimes".

Cabinet has also noted that while the "Executive is taking a determined, no-nonsense position against corruption, illicit drugs, gun crimes and traffic offences, it would appear that the judicial arms of the State do not lend adequate support for this initiative".

This cannot be and it is imperative that other groups in society lend their support to this initiative.

Public confidence is absolutely critical to promoting the efficacy of the judicial process.

We note that Chancellor of the Judiciary, Mr Cecil Kennard has declared that he is "horrified" at the one-year jail term imposed for gun smuggling last week and welcome his announcement that he has summoned a meeting of magistrates.

"I was disturbed by the sentence imposed by the magistrate...the sentencing has sent shock waves throughout the country," he said this week.

It is indeed a situation that needs quick redress.

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