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Magistrates should do means test before imposing fine on someone – Thomas

Magistrates should do means test before imposing fine on someone – Thomas

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Prominent lawyer Jomo Thomas is calling on magistrates to do a means test before imposing a fine on someone found guilty of an offence.

He said if an individual is given time to pay and that person does not have the ability to do so, he or she is essentially being sentenced to jail.{{more}}

A means test includes, among other things, determining if the person is employed, how much money he or she makes, what are the person’s responsibilities, how many children the person has, and whether they live in rented accommodation.

Thomas’ comments came following a case last week in which he appeared on behalf of Wilson Matthias, a Chateaubelair man who was fined $3,500 forthwith by magistrate Bertie Pompey, after he was found in possession of 1,176 grams of cannabis at Belle Isle on August 5, 2016.

Following the magistrate’s decision, Thomas noted that the Court of Appeal says if there is no means test and a person is fined $3,500, they are being confined instead of fined.

Thomas further urged the court to allow Matthias time to pay, adding that most people who carry “one or two pounds of weed” do not have the money to pay the fines. He said they are mostly trying to earn an income by the selling the drugs.

Pompey later changed the payment terms to $100 to be paid forthwith and the remainder within a month.

When SEARCHLIGHT approached Thomas, he said there is a practice in the court where when someone is found guilty, the magistrates almost immediately decide to fine them without making any assessment.

“Now, if you fine someone forthwith, it doesn’t matter if the person is the richest person in the world. That person may not have the money right there and if the person does not have the money right there, you’re actually restraining their liberty until they could get somebody to bring the money,” he said.

“Our court of appeal has said that in order to fine someone you have to do a means test to see whether the person has an ability to pay because if the person does not have an ability to pay it makes no sense you tell them you have to pay X amount of money.”

“So the court of appeal’s position is you do a means test; if the person can’t pay, say ‘alright spend four months in prison,’ but don’t tell them to pay $300 or $500 or $1,000 in a particular time knowing full well that they have no means to pay,” said Thomas. (AS)

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