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There’s the law, then there’s fair play


Tue October 21, 2014

It has been explained by those well versed in the law that in sentencing those convicted of crimes, the factors that work in the favour of the offender are an early guilty plea, efforts to make restitution, the remorse of the offender, no prior conviction, and efforts being made at rehabilitation. Those who have had previous convictions, waste the court’s time and have not made restitution are more likely to have the book thrown at them.{{more}}

All of that notwithstanding, this one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing wrongdoers certainly doesn’t seem fair. Offenders of high standing, who hold positions of trust in society, should, in our view, be held to a higher standard than the average person. After all, they are the ones held up as role models to our young people and in doing wrong, cause far more damage to society than do petty criminals, who for some reason, are given custodial sentences with far more alacrity.

Having a double standard is not unusual in the law. For example, when damages are being determined in defamation cases, the position, in society, of the person whose name was dragged through the mud, is taken into consideration. It is argued that when a prominent person is defamed, the damages awarded should be greater than those awarded to a less well-known person, as the prominent person has far more to lose. That is understood.

So therefore, it appears to us that highly educated, well-paid, socially well-connected persons, who hold positions of trust in society, should similarly be held to a higher standard than the average person. The mitigating factors taken into consideration at sentencing are much more easily at the disposal of those guilty of white collar crimes, who would be in a better position to hire the best lawyers and make restitution at an early opportunity. On the other hand, the person who shoplifts a bottle of rum, steals a bucket of passion fruit or money from his employer’s car, most times appears in court without counsel to beg for leniency.

Truth be told, the recent case in which former High Court registrar Mrs Tamara Gibson-Marks was fined $10,500 after she pleaded guilty to theft and abuse of office, reached much further in the justice system than many similar cases we have heard about over the years. Most persons guilty of white collar crimes are never even charged! However, it is our contention that the manner in which these cases are dealt and the relatively light sentences handed down for the few who are found guilty, send a troubling message to society.

And could someone please explain to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines why Mrs Gibson-Marks was not charged in connection with the over $300,000 which was withdrawn from a trust account at the St Vincent Cooperative Bank, which Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said she repaid? This too is very troubling. We would like to know.