Lenient sentences

Stabroek News
October 20, 1999

The Attorney General of Barbados said last week that when Parliament reconvenes in November he will introduce legislation to allow the Court of Appeal to reverse unduly lenient sentences imposed by high court judges or magistrates.

"The Chief Justice of Barbados and the Director of Public Prosecutions have requested me to draft that legislation" the Attorney General said adding that the chairman of the Law Reform Committee was completing it. He said that where a sentence was unduly lenient the prosecution would have a right of appeal. At present, there is no such right.

As a result of an amendment to our law many years ago the prosecution can appeal against the sentences of magistrates. This is not the case in the High Court. However, if an accused in the High Court appeals against his conviction on a point of law the High Court now has the power to increase the sentence if the appeal fails.

Concern has been expressed by readers in our letter columns about both the apparent disparity in different sentences and the sometimes surprisingly mild penalties meted out to serious offenders, particularly by magistrates. There has been no report of an appeal being filed by the prosecution against some of these sentences. What criteria are being followed to decide on an appeal?

We had urged that sentencing guidelines be given to judges and magistrates perhaps accompanied by a series of lectures with a view to improving the regularity in sentencing but this has not been done and what was once said about the capriciousness of the application of the principles of equity in English law can perhaps be appropriately applied to sentencing procedures here.

It is an important element in the system of justice that sentences imposed should be seen as roughly appropriate by the man or woman on the Georgetown minibus. Where people are killed by dangerous driving, where there is violent crime, where young children are raped, where impenitent noise makers spoil the lives of all who live in their vicinity the public expect the magistrates to weigh their sentences with a due awareness of the seriousness of the offence, the mischief it causes and the frequency with which it is committed.

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