Chancellor alarmed at light jail terms

by Sharon Lall
Guyana Chronicle
December 22, 1999

THE courts, in some instances, have not been doing a good job and certain sentences appear not to take into account the seriousness of crimes, Chancellor of the Judiciary, Mr Cecil Kennard says.

"The question of sentence is a matter of discretion. It must not appear to be too lenient or too severe," he stressed Monday at the launching of the Charles Kennard Safe Drive Campaign, at the Park Hotel, Georgetown.

"Having regards to the high incidence of causing death by dangerous driving and careless driving the courts and, in particular, the Magistrates Court, ought to take a very serious few of the situation", he said.

The Chancellor said he was "quite alarmed" recently when a Senior Magistrate, in at least 17 cases, imposed penalties which were far below the minimum prescribed by the law.

"Is that not lawlessness at its high degree (when) a magistrate who is supposed to defend justice and administer justice according to law, should stoop and bend because he may feel sorry for a motorist?

"That is completely wrong," he said.

The same magistrate had to be told he is "not fit to be a magistrate", he said.

The Chancellor said that in a recent talk with magistrates he told them it was important to bear in mind how the public feels about crime in Guyana.

"In deciding the appropriate sentence, a court should always be guided by certain considerations. The first and foremost is the public interest", he stated.

The criminal law is publicly enforced not only with the object of punishing crime, but also in the hope of preventing it, he said.

"...Our law does not fix the sentence for a particular crime but fixes a maximum sentence and leaves it to the court to decide what is within that maximum the appropriate sentence for each criminal in particular circumstances", he explained.

Mr Kennard added that the fact that punishment does not entirely prevent all crimes should not be taken to mean that severe punishment does not prevent acts of crimes.

"If a court is weakly merciful and does not impose a sentence commensurate with the seriousness of the crime, it fails in its duty to see that the sentences are such as to operate as a powerful factor to prevent the commission of offences."

The Chancellor said, in this regard, it is true that several aspects of Guyana's laws need updating. Some of these have been in the statute books since 1953, he noted.

"We need to keep pace with modern changes," he said, citing examples from North America, where technology is used to determine, among other things, if a driver is under the influence of alcohol and incapable of controlling his/her vehicle.

"A large percentage of our crimes are contributed to people having too much to drink," Mr Kennard stated.

The "carnage" on the roadways, he said, results from too much "indiscipline" among drivers, in particular, and pedestrians to a lesser extent.

A concerted effort was needed by everyone before a downward trend in the number of road deaths can be seen in this country, he argued.

He said every member of society will definitely need to "pull up their socks".

"I am convinced (that) as you drive along the road you are exposed to danger. One doesn't know who next it will be," the Chancellor remarked.

He believes owners of mini-buses are largely to be blamed for the number of accidents on the roadway since it is they who make "arrangements" for drivers, their employees, to earn a certain daily cash target.

"Unless the mini-bus owners caution their drivers and demand a reasonable amount from the person with whom they have the arrangement, they would not help with the serious problem we have in this country."

The Chancellor said he hopes that as the nation approaches the new millennium, the owners and drivers of motor vehicles will take stock of themselves and assist in dealing with the chaos on the roadways.

The Charles Kennard Safe Drive Campaign organised by the Volunteer Youth Corps is aimed at reducing traffic hazards.

The $3M project is expected to run from January to May, 2000 and was named after the former Chairman of the Guyana Rice Development Board and brother of the Chancellor who died in a traffic accident earlier this year.

Organisers said the late Kennard was chosen because he was a Guyanese who has made a significant contribution to this country's development.

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