THE Saint Lucian public — and those in other jurisdictions of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court — will soon be having their say on new sentencing guidelines.
The Court’s Chief Justice, Dame Janice M. Pereira, announced this in an address to mark the opening of the 2018/2019 Law Year.
This project, she said, is well underway with the first set of draft sentencing guidelines being introduced to all judicial officers at the Annual Judicial Conference for judges in July of this year and to magistrates over a two-day Conference that immediately followed the judicial conference.
“The response from all judicial officers has been positive. The Sentencing Guidelines Project and a sampling of the draft guidelines produced to date were also introduced to Members of the Bar as well as prosecutors from across the OECS Region…” she said.
The Chief Justice said work on the sentencing guidelines to date has been focused on certain areas like drugs, firearms, theft, robbery and sexual offences. These will be the first series of guidelines.
“Thereafter, we intend to roll out additional guidelines in respect of other offences, all to be applied in accordance with sentencing principles which will be set out in a Sentencing Practice Direction to be issued by the Court,” Pereira said.
Noting that for the Court to serve the people of the Eastern Caribbean in an efficient and transparent manner it must continuously find ways to improve its processes and procedures and embrace systems and methods that are transparent and easily understood by the people it serves, she said that overtime it became increasingly apparent that the sentencing process in a criminal trial across OECS States was being approached in different ways with results which, to the public, appear to be disparate.
“Sentencing is one of the areas of great public interest and one which attracts much comment, some of which are often uniformed. In the criminal justice system the sentencing process is one of utmost importance as it invariably engages the liberty of the subject. It therefore calls for deliberate and mature consideration in order to ensure that public confidence in the justice system is maintained,” Pereira said.
According to the Chief Justice the passing of a sentence must not just be done right but must also be understood as having been done right.
“It was out of this desire to assist judicial officers, and more importantly the desire to bring consistency to the approach to sentencing, and in so doing transparency and a greater sense of fairness to the sentencing process, that the idea of a Sentencing Guidelines Project took root,” Pereira said.
She added that the objective of Project was to assist judicial officers in providing structured and well-reasoned sentencing remarks as a normal practice and in a format which would encourage their publication.
The remarks coming from the public, the bar association, and other judicial authorities, Chief Justice Pereira said, will build up a bank of authority to assist courts, legal practitioners, students of law and the public to better understand the sentencing process and in turn promote greater confidence in the criminal justice system.
“Their response has also been encouraging. Thereafter, it is intended that a further consultative process engaging the wider public will be undertaken in each State and Territory over the next few months,” Pereira said, adding that the aim is not to achieve uniformity of sentences but rather consistency in the approach to sentencing so as to promote fairness and transparency in the process.