EDITORIAL: Where’s the forgiveness in the system?
IN A DEVELOPING nation priding itself on having compassion, it is quite unfair that 20 years or more after a youthful indiscretion, that mistake hangs over one’s head like the sword of Damocles.
A person can carry a criminal conviction to his death and sometimes the reputation gained for that minor infraction endures for what would seem an eternity. It has the potential to dog a person’s life no matter how hard he or she tries to shift the stigma associated with the results of a rather ignorant period or rash decision.
The issue of expunging the criminal record of a person came up again recently in the Magistrates’ Court. Attorney at law Arthur Holder attempted to persuade Magistrate Kristie Cuffy-Sargeant that his client ought to be regarded as a first-time offender since his last violation was in 1994. His client, Craig Bernard Holmes, 41, would have been about 20 years at the time.
Two decades later in his second appearance before the court, the magistrate is bound by the law to review his record before passing sentence. While it is up to the court’s discretion how much weight it will place on the violator’s history, the record is still there.
That scenario could be repeated for another life-changing situation but instead of finding himself before the court, it could be the reformed offender appearing before a potential employer who requires a police certificate of character. It would take a very understanding employer to overlook the transgression and favour the person for a job.
That any misdemeanour from shoplifting a small item, to getting involved in a public fracas in the heat of the moment, can follow a person into adulthood with catastrophic results is unconscionable in any society that prides itself on forgiveness. Moreover, it can transform the person who has made a mistake into becoming very jaded and bitter against the system.
The attorney was quite right in his assumption that the man should be looked upon as a first offender after two decades, but the magistrate was also correct in instructing him to follow protocol. The average person may not be aware of the provision for this second chance and it should be publicized more by authorities.
There are many others after their initial transgression who have gone on to live exemplary lives and deserve the honour of removing this stain from their record. It should not be allowed to follow them to their graves.
The process for the opportunity to correct a wrong need not be mired in such red tape if forgiveness is at the heart of the policy.