‘Review manslaughter rules’
The time has perhaps come for four-year-old guidelines for sentencing in manslaughter cases to be revised.
This is the view of two Court of Appeal judges, Justice Peter Williams and Justice Sandra Mason.
Together with Acting Chief Justice Sherman Moore they form a three-member panel, hearing a reference, brought by Director of Public Prosecutions Charles Leacock, QC, who is contending that the ten-year jail term imposed on Joel Foster for killing a Canadian tourist was unduly lenient.
However, his attorney Andrew Pilgrim argued that the sentence, imposed by Justice Randall Worrell, fell “smack dab” in the middle of one of the guidelines and, as a result, there was nothing wrong it.
Speaking during the arguments, Justice Williams said it was not that a differently constituted Court of Appeal in 2006 which was headed by now retired Chief Justice Sir David Simmons, got it wrong.
“It is about revising in light of a passage of time,” Justice of Appeal Williams said, adding the current guidelines were “not fixed in stone”.
“It could be,” the court of appeal judge noted, “that the manslaughter sentences are too low.” In addition, Justice of Appeal Sandra Mason said it was her belief “that the time had come to change the guidelines”.
Meanwhile, Pilgrim contended that the current guidelines, which were laid down in the appeal case of Pierre Lorde, put an undue emphasis on firearm killings.
“Those guidelines make firearms too important,” he said. “I feel we got that entirely wrong. Parliament got it wrong for what ever reason; the judges got it wrong in terms of the guidelines and everything that follows after it, down through (Leandro) Pope seems to me to be wrong.
“Can we say now, after the facts in Curtis Foster’s case, that we will increase the tariffs for people who get killed by a bottle or a brick or a stick?” he asked.
Pilgrim also argued that the time had come to institute different categories for manslaughter and commensurate sentences for those categories.
In Pierre Lorde, the then Court of Appeal had suggested that when someone is convicted, after trial, of manslaughter in which a firearm was used, and the case had no mitigating features, the sentence should start at 25 years and go up to life.
However, in a contested trial, where the facts are grave but with mitigating features such as provocation then the range is 18 to 22 years.
An early guilty plea in such circumstances should attract a lower sentence of between 14 to 18 years.
In a case of a trial, where a firearm is not used and there are mitigating features, the range of sentence is 16 to 20 years. A guilty plea, in those circumstances, will carry a range of 10 to 14 years.
Meanwhile, in a contested trial where the offender uses no “intrinsically” dangerous weapon and there are mitigation features the range is 8 to 12 years. With an early guilty plea the case then attracts a sentence of less than eight years.