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EC Supreme Court sentencing guidelines

EC Supreme Court sentencing guidelines
Left to right: Justice Brian Cottle and Justice Esco Henry

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Guidelines seeking to promote consistency in the approach Judges use to sentence criminals, were officially launched this week, beginning with guidelines dealing with the offences of rape, unlawful sexual intercourse, robbery, theft and drug offences.

On Tuesday, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) live-streamed from Antigua and Barbuada to its other eight member states, the official launch of the sentencing guidelines, a project which has been in the works for four years.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, Judges Brian Cottle, Esco Henry, Nicola Byer and Acting Master of the ECSC Rickie Burnett presided over the courtroom where seated there were veteran and novel attorneys, and President of the SVG Bar Association René Baptiste.

Current Co-Chairs of the ECSC Sentencing Advisory Committee, Justice of Appeal, Gertel Thom (who took over the position from Justice of Appeal Kelvin Baptiste), and Justice Iain Morley made their own comments at the event.

Morley indicated that by Easter next year they hope to have added ten more guidelines for the offences of incest, murder, manslaughter, indecent assault/serious indecent assault, burglary, grievous bodily harm with intent or without intent, actual bodily harm, fraud and corruption.

Delivering the feature addess was the Chief Justice of the ECSC, Dame Janice Pereira, who indicated that the guidelines are expected to be in force by October 1 of this year.

“The task was to devise a consistent and uniform approach to sentencing which is informed and could be understood by victims, offenders, and the public at large,” she explained while indicating that it has taken extensive work on the part of those involved.

“Sentencing of an offender is an extremely serious matter, and an awesome responsibility on the shoulders of any judicial officer in seeking to ensure that the sentence he or she passes is fair and just,” she noted.

She recognized that the public has a keen interest in the way offenders are sentenced.

“One of the areas of greatest public interest and comment, sometimes uninformed, is that area of sentencing,” she stated. It is of the utmost importance, the Chief Justice feels, that the public maintains confidence in the administration of justice, and one way of doing this is by providing clear reasons for sentences passed, and to maintain consistency.

The guidelines have been available on the ECSC website since Tuesday, September 17, where the public has full access to them.

However, while consistency is the sought after goal, the Chief Justice said that she wanted to make it clear that the guidelines were not intended to, and do not replace a Judge’s discretion while sentencing.

Therefore, “What is required and what is expected is that sentences will follow the guidelines published for an offence, unless to do so would not be in the interests of justice,” Pereira noted.
It is expected that if the judges are departing from the guidelines that they will be clear reasons before doing so when handing out sentences.

Alongside the guidelines are the ESCS sentencing guidelines rules for each country, along with practice directions, which will also be published on the ECSC website for the public.

Pereira noted that legal counsels will be expected to assist the court in the application of the guidelines and as such they should become fully acquainted with the guidelines, rules, and practice directions.

As it regards the future of the initiative, she assured that, “as with any rule or practice, direction or guideline, they (the sentencing guidelines) will be monitored for fairness and effectiveness, and where necessary, over time, will be subject to review and revision.”

“It is our hope that the approach which has been adopted, will make the task of sentencing easier for judicial officers, but more importantly that the approach taken will lead to the production of well reasoned sentencing remarks, or judgments,” she concluded.

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