I believe there are far too many harsh sentences for offenders in the assizes. I read almost every month, at least twice in your widely read newspaper here in the diaspora, of offenders who are found guilty of a capital offence – and in particular, the recent sentence received by Foster Gravesande of Mahaica in the Demerara Assizes – and no one in the judicial hierarchy seems concerned about the harshness of sentences imposed on them.
As a former practitioner in Guyana myself, and with a keen sense of seeing fair play occurring in civil society, I would like to say that Guyana should take a harder look at its sentencing laws and principles used by judges, and introduce new legislation accordingly, to suit the times.
Here in Ontario in 2021, firstly, a good sentencing technique that a judge often uses upon a person similar to Foster Gravesande, who, from what I read in the page 12 <<Guyana Times>> January 8, 2021 edition, said: “The only thing about me is that I like plenty women…” (convict tells Judge…jailed for 56 years after killing neighbour’), who has been a model citizen and a model prisoner for the past 4 years, would be to declare him as a dangerous offender due to the nature and gravity of his crime.
In Ontario, such a designation would often result in an indeterminate sentence by a judge, with eligibility to apply for parole after seven years, due to statutory legal guidelines. The learned judge in Guyana gave Mr Gravesande the quantum of 56 years, with eligibility for parole after 28 years.
As a lawyer, I find such a sentence very interesting. I find it interesting because if one is sent to the “slammers” for 60 or more years, with eligibility for parole exceeding 25 years, and as in Gravesande’s case – eligibility for parole after 28 years – certainly, you will never get parole, in essence, when you are in your early fifties, as Mr. Gravesande is.
Now, in my humble view, that portion of the sentence is cruel and inhumane, and ought to be addressed by the legislators and/or Chancellor and/or AG, as it is not just cruel and inhumane, but unconscionable and difficult for me to digest as an individual living in civil society.
The purpose of jails is, inter alia, to rehabilitate.
Why would a judicial officer see it appropriate to say that an offender is to be eligible for parole until he is at least past his 78th year, when the average lifespan of a citizen in Guyana does not permit him past his 63rd year? I ask, is that how we ought to operate when we wear a justice cap in 2021? Justice, to me, must mean something a little more encompassing and dynamic. Particularly if, for the past 4 years, such a person has been a model prisoner while in the prison. Are there no real confidences shared in the incarceration regime of Guyana by these judges?
Here in Ontario, the sentencing regime only permits a sentencing judge concrete parameter within which he or she must deliver an appropriate sentence, and if a judge overrides those parameters, his or her Regional Supervisor, a senior judge, may “accost” that judge to keep him or her “in line and in conformity”; and short of that, at an appeal hearing, strong words are eviscerated towards such a judge by the appellate tribunal.
Further, with Ontarian judges, I have found that they would use 7 years as eligibility for parole as a yardstick for when even the most dangerous offender with first degree murder faces them in the courtroom. Ontarian justice system accords high regard to human dignity and the right of an offender to make amends for a bad deed, and to rehabilitate himself and then return to society, and the sentencing laws are geared to that end.
While I personally agree that murderers have to face the music, the sentencing regime is now being juxtaposed with a more rehabilitative approach than one which simply says, “Electrocute him – he deserves it!” In fact, Bill Blair, who was a former Toronto Police Chief, now Minister in Trudeau’s Cabinet in Canada, advocates for residents and staff of congregate settings, i.e., correctional facilities,” to receive C-19 vaccines ahead of any and all Police and firefighters during January 2021 and beyond.
I feel Guyana ought to take guidance from the Ontarian jurisdiction, which is known for its excellent judicious sentencing regime. And even looking at common law principles, my argument would still apply; that is, to make an offender wait 28 years for parole eligibility is egregious.
Following the decision by the learned judge in the Demerara Assizes, I shudder to think what would have happened to the thought processes of the lawyer who appeared for the defence at the Sentencing Hearing for the rest of that rather unfortunate day, much less Mr Gravesande, the offender himself.
M Shabeer Zafar
Notary, in Canada