Judicial officers can’t live in the sky – PM Gonsalves
December 4, 2012

Judicial officers can’t live in the sky – PM Gonsalves

The chief public prosecutor says he would like to see more consistency and consciousness by judicial officers when sentencing persons convicted of offences against yachters.{{more}}

Director of Public Prosecutions Colin Williams was responding yesterday to a SEARCHLIGHT request for comment after Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves on Wednesday said cops had complained about the judiciary giving such offenders a “rap on the knuckles”.

“This is our bread and butter, this is our breadfruit tree — judicial officers can’t live in the sky. They have to live on earth like the rest of us,” Gonsalves told Parliament in response to a question from Northern Grenadines representative, Dr Godwin Friday.

Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security and Legal Affairs, said members of the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF) had complained about the lenient sentences after their hard work to catch yacht burglars.

Gonsalves, a lawyer, however said sentencing is specific to the case and it may be well be in each case that the judicial officer has good reason for their decisions.

“I can only talk as a representative of the people, how we feel. I can’t go and tell the independent judiciary how they must do their job,” he said.

And the DPP told SEARCHLIGHT he could not directly comment on matters relating to sentencing, saying that he did not “trespass” on such issues.

“That is an area within the province of the magistracy,” he said.

Williams, however, said the issue needs some attention, seeing that the penalty would depend on what the offender has been charged with.

He explained that when a person travels to St Vincent and the Grenadines on a yacht, they are in transit and are only staying temporarily.

“If somebody breaks into their yacht, they want to move on. They don’t want to stay here to be coming back to testify; they want a speedy resolution to the matter,” Williams said.

He said that often persons involved in yacht crimes are charged with unlawful possession.

“That is all they are charged with and the thieves know this and they are charged with unlawful possession and may only get up to a year or something [in prison], so they go and they plead guilty and the court says the rules of sentencing say that if you plead guilty, you ought to be given a discount,” he explained.

But Williams said lawyer Grant Connell, who has an interest in the tourism industry, has addressed the issue.

He said Connell proposed in a May 3, 2011 letter to Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan that there needed to be an amendment to the criminal code, Sections 209, 233 and 308.

In the letter, Connell indicated that he had been asked to represent an accused, initially charged with theft, under Section 209. The client pleaded not guilty.

“Theft carries a more serious penalty, but he pleaded not guilty to that,” Connell indicated in the letter to the attorney general.

Given the evidence that unfolded, the charges were amended to Section 308, which is basic unlawful possession, the letter went on to indicate.

“The prisoner was no stranger to the court, since it appeared from the antecedents that theft was and is his forte, in particular theft from yachts,” the letter said.

When the charge was amended, the individual changed his plea to guilty and the magistrate imposed the maximum penalty of six months.

“Judging from the smirk on the prisoner’s face and hearing his sentence, he considered it a slap on the wrist — that in a matter of 24 weeks, right on schedule with the start of the 2011 tourist season, he would be free to indulge once again in his pilfering habit — a habit that has serious ramifications with irreparable damage to our tourism industry,” Connell wrote in the letter.

The magistrate was not in a position to rid society of this individual and the six-month sentence was not commensurate with the charge.

“The existing laws do not act as a deterrent to the crimes being committed, nor do they offer sufficient punishment,” Connell wrote to Jones-Morgan.

Such offences should be deemed as major crimes, given their corrosive effect, Connell suggested.

“There is going to be a paradigm shift of these criminals to visitors,” he indicated in the letter.