March 2, 2007
New law to make criminals pay

The space within which criminals operate has been narrowed with the passing of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (St Vincent and the Grenadines) (Amendment) Bill, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves believes.

While piloting the Bill that would give the State an avenue to appeal against sentencing issued in criminal offences at the High Court, Dr Gonsalves said that the move was a response to “outrageously lenient” sentences issued by the High Court to convicted criminals.{{more}}

“We have to say to judges – you have to be reviewed,” said Dr Gonsalves.

As he asked for unanimity in the House of Assembly for the passing of the bill, Dr Gonsalves referred to the now infamous rape case which came to an end on Monday, October 15 2006. Alonzo Lewis, a 30-year-old rapist was given a suspended sentence rather than a jail term for raping a 17-year-old girl.

“There are guidelines, sentencing guidelines handed down by the Chief Justice,” Dr Gonsalves said.

He said that in sentencing for rape one should start in the area of eight years and move up or down based on the circumstances involved in the rape. The maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment.

Parliamentary representative for the Northern Grenadines Dr Godwin Friday gave his support to the Bill stating that it is a very significant development in our criminal justice system. He agreed that public outcry and concerns raised about the judgment handed down in the Lewis case demanded a response from the Government and Parliament.

“We on this side of the House will support any measure that we believe has a good chance of dealing with the prosecution of crime and the causes of crime,” Dr Friday said.

Dr Friday cautioned however that new laws cannot deal with the important factors of crime detection, prosecution and ultimately conviction of a guilty person.

He said that these areas must be addressed in tandem with the improvement in legislations.

He also expressed his hope that the new powers afforded the DPP would be used effectively and “when strictly necessary.”

With this new law in place, a rapist like Alonzo Lewis will find that what was considered his “slap on the wrist,” will be challenged with an effort to make sure that he spends adequate time behind the bars of Her Majesty’s Prison.