EDTOR: There has been much hue and cry by the Court of Public Opinion over the imposition of an 18-month sentence on a man recently convicted of a sexual offence involving a five-year-old child. This article, written after much reflection, seeks to clarify certain issues, to put forward a feasible suggestion and to denounce the actions of the public whereby our judicial officers are being vilified and subjected to unnecessary and unwarranted verbal abuse borne of ignorance.
Firstly, the defendant was not charged with rape, contrary to what is being published, he was charged with indecent assault and gross indecency. Rape is an indictable offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and which can only be determined in the High Court, not in the Magistrate’s Court.
The lesser offences of indecent assault and gross indecency are summary offences which are heard at the Magistrate’s Court. The maximum sentence which can be imposed for indecent assault on a child, is five years imprisonment and one year for gross indecency. When embarking upon the sentencing process, the magistrate or judge does not start at the maximum. Rather, he/she starts at a midway point, then works his/her way upward or downward depending on the mitigating or aggravating factors.
On a plea of guilty, where there has been a breach of trust, our courts, inclusive of the Court of Appeal, have approved sentences for indecent assault, between nine to 18 months imprisonment and in a contested trial, the approved sentences would be in the region of 12 months to three years.
The defendant in this case pleaded guilty and he had no previous convictions, so the magistrate did not depart from the range of sentences, and the sentence imposed was in keeping with the guidelines set out by our courts.
In light of the fact that there is a rapid increase in the prevalence of offences of a sexual nature in this country, particularly where the victims are young children, then perhaps our discussions should focus more on drawing Parliament’s attention to the need for amendment of legislation to reflect stiffer penalties, rather than on trying to bring our justice system into disrepute.
In Defence of Justice