Chief Justice given green light over sentencing guidelines
The Chief Justice of Barbados will now have the power to create sentencing guidelines for judges presiding over criminal cases.
Previously, this applied only to civil matters.
This development came from the tabling of the then Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill, 2023 during yesterday’s session of the House of Assembly by Attorney General Dale Marshall.
The Bill, which was subsequently passed as the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Act, 2023, will formally allow Chief Justices to make practice directions in respect of criminal matters. It will also see a public officer, with the approval of the Prime Minister, be assigned to the Judicial Appointments Committee as Secretary.
“We see the news reports in the paper and we will wonder why this person got a slap on the wrist and why another person had the book thrown at them,” Marshall began.
“This is because we follow the rule of law that we cannot interfere in any way with the discretion of the judges. So strong has the move toward judicial independence been, so strong has the need to protect the powers of the judge grown, that our law now says that judges must have full discretion. However, there have been instances where lawyers would be dumbfounded at the sentencing of the judges.”
There will be both general and specific guidelines. The first four areas which will have specific guidelines are causing death by dangerous driving, [illegal] firearm offences, rape and offences of dishonesty which will be further broken down into theft, robbery, burglar and aggravated burglary.
The final area will be drug offences “from the smallest to the largest”. The Attorney General pointed out the Amendment to the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act has already dealt with possession of small amount of cannabis, virtually eliminating those types of offences from the system.
“As a society we call out for rationality in all matters relating to the rights and privileges of individuals. We call out for consistency of approach, for predictability and it can all be subsumed into one word – fairness,” Marshall explained.
“The methodology that we propose to adopt in Barbados is one where the Chief Justice will prescribe sentencing guidelines and the mere use of the word guidelines will indicate a judge, while he is expected to follow the methodology set out in a guideline, he is free to go on either side of it.”
He clarified that the guidelines would not stipulate what should be done in a particular matter, but inform how a judge should approach sentencing.
Some of the general principles which exist in sentencing are as follows:
- Every sentence imposed must be clearly expressed and the reasoning for imposing a particular sentence is given.
- The number of previous offences committed
- Good character, and subsequently bad character, have to be taken into account.
- Whether there is an element of dangerousness attached to the offence.
- Whether the offender had assisted the prosecuting authorities or if they had caused those authorities delay.