As many persons continue to complain about some of the sentences being imposed by magistrates and judges, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) has issued a new set of sentencing guidelines.
The initiative – undertaken with the support of the British High Commission and the US Embassy for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean – is intended to promote and streamline the court’s approach across to sentencing across its nine-member jurisdiction.
The first set of Sentencing Guidelines was officially launched on September 17 last year and came into effect on October 1, 2019.
This second set, issued by Chief Justice Dame Janice Pereira and two other judges in July, will take effect on September 1, 2020 in the High and Magistrates’ courts.
They will include sentencing guidelines for Firearm Offences; Drug Offences; and Offences of Dishonesty (i.e., theft, robbery, burglary, and aggravated burglary); as well as Sexual Offences (rape, unlawful sexual intercourse, aggravated unlawful sexual intercourse, indecency and incest).
According to the Court, these guidelines are not intended to achieve uniformity in sentences or to restrict judicial discretion. While judges and magistrates should follow them, presiding officers will enjoy some discretion in exceptional circumstances, and where the departure from the norm can be justified.
For instance, in its recent Guidelines, the Court gave the starting point for murder sentences as 40 years; but this depends on several factors, including aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
However, all adjudicators must give “clear reasons for not applying the guidelines…when passing sentence,” and they must also ensure that each relevant step … is identified to the offender, in public, before the sentence is passed.
If the guidelines are consistently applied, it “will assist immensely in maintaining and promoting public confidence and transparency in the criminal justice system,” the Court says.
Since the launch of the first set, the Committee reportedly has been monitoring the guidelines for fairness and effectiveness, even as it worked on developing new guidelines.
The Committee’s work was chaired by His Lordship, the Honourable Justice Iain Morley.