Chief justice dismisses criticism of ‘light sentence’ to accused gangster

CHIEF Justice Bryan Sykes has responded to recent reports of disquiet amongst some members of the constabulary about what they contend are “light sentences” handed down in some courts.

At the same time, he said in due course entities on the prosecution side who are dissatisfied with a ruling will have recourse.

“I have no problem with criticisms of judges but we must have all the information before we criticise and in any event the solution to this is a simple one which the ministry is addressing, namely right of appeal by the Crown. So all of these things will be addressed in due course,” he stated.

Presently in Jamaica the Crown has no right to appeal. Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Lewellyn, QC and at least two of her predecessors have made that appeal to Parliament in times past to no avail.

The chief justice’s comments follow on a recent ruling where an alleged gang member was sentenced to nine months for illegal possession of firearm and ammunition before the St Ann Parish Court, sparking complaints from lawmen.

The disquiet was supposedly amplified by the fact that the convicted man who pleaded guilty for illegal possession of firearm and ammunition would only spend one more month in prison due to the fact that he has been detained for eight months already.

The chief justice, speaking at the contract signing for the construction of a family court in that parish on Wednesday morning, said the criticism was not grounded in facts.

“According to the news report the police are reportedly upset because of the light sentence; the point is that there is no offence known as ‘alleged gangster’. There is a statute called Criminal Justice (Suppression of Organisations) Act and if the police are of the view that they have sufficient evidence to convince a court of the requisite standard that this person is indeed a member of a criminal organisation, then that is the charge that ought to have been laid and then the person would have been tried or placed before a judge of the Supreme Court, but the judge at the Parish Court can’t take account of allegations that are unsubstantiated,” Justice Sykes noted.

He further pointed out that judges, in making sentencing decisions, have to focus on the offence for which the person has been convicted.

“And in any event with Parish Court judges there is a limit to the sentence that they can give and the report does not indicate the remarks by the sentencing judge which the Court of Appeal has now obliged all judges at whatever level in the trial courts to indicate why a particular sentence was given. I am sure that the judge did this but, of course, those things are not usually of interest. What is of interest now is the nine months it is said that he received,” the chief justice added.

Commenting on the claims that the convicted man was believed to be a member of the feared Hollywood Gang, the chief justice said allegations were not sufficient.

“Again, where is the evidence to support this? Furthermore there is legislation that indicates that where the person has entered a plea, then discounts ought to be taken into account and interestingly, the report does not indicate any long list of previous convictions of any kind so it would appear, even on this report, that this is a gentleman [who] may very well have been, as far as the court is concerned, a first offender, no previous conviction and he is in a court that has a limit placed upon its sentencing and the gentleman has been in custody for some eight months, so all of these are factors that the judge would have to take into account,” Justice Sykes said.

– Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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