Sentencing policy raised at magistrates conference

Guyana Chronicle
February 6, 2000

THE contentious issue of sentencing and granting bail to litigants was among several issues discussed when Chancellor of the Judiciary, Mr Cecil Kennard met magistrates yesterday.

Sentencing to fit crimes has been a talking point and was heightened recently following what many feel was the outrageously light punishment in a guns and ammunition case.

Mr Kennard said the two issues were the focus of the forum which also dealt with several other matters pertaining to the work of the magistracy.

One matter raised was magistrates not sitting in the afternoon.

Refuting a media report which suggested that yesterday's meeting at the Court of Appeal building in Georgetown was summoned as a result of a government statement denouncing the sentencing in the gun-running case, the Chancellor said this was one of the regular fora he had earlier initiated for magistrates every three months.

"It is just incidental, but the meeting was planned prior to the statement," he pointed out, adding that the next meeting will he hosted in Berbice.

The Chancellor also plans to hold dialogue with judges shortly.

On Friday, Mr Kennard raised the issue of afternoon court sittings and "erratic" sentencing while addressing a large gathering at the commissioning of the Whim Magistrate's Court on the Corentyne.

Commenting briefly on sentencing, he said that members of the Judiciary who sit in the Court of Appeal do not disturb sentences imposed by a magistrate unless these are manifestly excessive.

That he said can be attested to by Appeal Court Judge Prem Persaud who was also at the ceremony.

But he remarked that judging from reports in the daily newspapers, one wonders if "something is going crazy".

He described sentencing as a matter of discretion but equally important is public interest and one of the objectives of punishment is the deterrent of the actions.

In addition to the gun-running case, the Chancellor alluded to a recent disparity in sentences by a High Court Judge for heinous offences.

In one case, a male and female were each sentenced to four years in jail after being found guilty of manslaughter and two weeks later the same judge sentenced another person convicted of manslaughter to a 12-year jail term.

"Is that comprehensible?...surely something is wrong, " the Chancellor remarked.

And on the issue of afternoon court sessions, he appealed for the cooperation of the Police, lawyers and litigants to help reduce the huge backlog of cases.

The Chancellor pleaded for lawyers at the Berbice Bar to assist the Magistrate by going to New Amsterdam after Bail Court on Tuesday so that afternoon sessions could be held.

He said it is normal practice for lawyers on that day to either proceed to their chambers or going elsewhere.

And noting that both magistrates and judges would like to push in as much work as possible, the Chancellor said magistrates have, however, complained that they are prevented from doing so because of the absence of lawyers during the afternoon.

He said it is a "total misconception" that some people when they do not see a court functioning blame the magistrate, though admitting that there may be a few weak links in the judiciary including the magistracy and the High Court.

Mr Kennard who said he is being criticised for the apparent shortfall, called on his friends in Berbice to help him and avoid some of the criticisms.