Sentencing guidelines must be followed – Judge
Sentences handed down by judges and magistrates are guided by a set of sentencing guidelines which are clearly thought out by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC).
But, despite the fact that these guidelines are available to the public online and other places, the judiciary continues to be bombarded by criticisms from the public, some of them defamatory.
“We would have heard the criticisms of the sentences imposed in some of the courts so the primary objective behind the launch of the guidelines is to seek to continue to restore public confidence in the transparency and consistency of judicial approach to sentencing,” Justice Esco Henry told persons last week at the National Insurance Services (NIS) conference room during a workshop.
The workshop was being held to inform persons about the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) 2019 and the role these guidelines play in sentencing.
The Judge said that despite what persons say, the guidelines should be applied in all cases unless to do so would be contrary to the interest of justice.
She however noted that the reasons and procedures for the sentence must be explained by the judge involved, including in instances where a guideline is not followed.
If a guideline is not followed, reasoning and rationale behind that departure should be given.
“The guidelines seek to ensure that sentences in our jurisdictions are structured, well reasoned and published and this will no doubt lead to a better understanding among our publics of the principles of practice of sentencing,” Justice Henry noted.
She added that in any democratic society the rule of law is the cornerstone of establishment and maintenance of law and order.
“Part of the constituent elements of the rule of law is that there must be restrictions on the arbitrary exercise of power from whatever source even from judicial officers who are carrying out their functions in their role on the bench,” the judge told the room of lawyers, law practitioners and journalists.
She said that you restrict power, but subordinating those powers to well defined and established laws.
“The sentencing guidelines are going to be implemented by statutory instruments in all of the members states and territories served by Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court so they will have the force of law and it means that all judicial officers who are charged with enforcing them must give effect to them, must comply with those guidelines,” Justice Henry stressed while
noting that the guidelines must be adhered to by the High Court and the Magistrate Courts as the ECSC has taken the bold step to introduce them.
She noted also that the public should know the guidelines require that the judicial officers always give reasons for the sentences that they arrive at.
“They are mandated pursuant to the guidelines to explain clearly in their decisions to the process by which they arrive at the sentences,” she noted while adding that in a lot of cases, the sentencing decisions are posted online.
“Very importantly, the objective is not to achieve inequality across jurisdictions and even in respect of offences you will also hear the guidelines are not intended to erode the discretion of a judicial officer, in fact, it is critical that the discretion of judicial officers be maintained as part of this process,” noted the learned judge who added that defence counsels have a duty to inform clients about the guidelines.
The workshop also heard from Justice Brian Cottle.
Justice Cottle said that in relation to the criticisms, while persons say certain things, the court must be prepared to listen to and accept that persons are entitled to their opinions.
“But what we ask is that those opinions, those comments, those criticisms be informed and fair and we would listen,” said Justice Cottle who stressed that judges are not perfect.