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Sir Richard raps new sentences

Gercine Carter

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NOTED DEFENCE ATTORNEY Sir Richard Cheltenham doubts that the “sharply increased” sentencing regime in Barbados’ justice system has been effective.“I don’t know that it has been necessarily effective as a disincentive,” Sir Richard told the DAILY NATION.He questioned whether imposing a sentence of 25 to 30 years on young men who, according to him, “constitute over 85 per cent” of the population at Dodds “serves any useful purpose”.He did add, however: “That is not to say that there are not some cases around that deserve very sharp sentencing.”Reflecting on his early years at the Bar, Sir Richard said a five-to-seven-year sentence was then imposed for rape, “and only if it was accompanied by a lot of violence would you get a ten-year (sentence)”. Today, rape convictions result in sentences of 15 years or longer while there were some “circumstances in which you can kill a man and get far less”.He also expressed concern about the age range of the majority of prisoners.Whereas the prison population consisted largely of mature men when he started his practice, Sir Richard said young men between the ages of 18 and 26 constitute the bulk of the present prison population.“It is a commentary on the extent to which our young men are in serious crisis,” Sir Richard said.He observed: “In relation to people who are in the sub-culture, they have their own values and they seem to be indifferent and care nothing about the wider societal values, including what the court does.”Drawing on his own experience defending clients accused of rape, which he acknowledged was “a disgusting thing” from which “some people can be traumatised forever”, Sir Richard cautioned against the view “that every woman who has been raped has been hurt”.“That is not true. That is not to say that there is not a large number who have been seriously traumatised. But you have to look at each case separately.”