Legislation referred to joint select committee of parliament for deliberations
The Government of Jamaica yesterday (February 21) tabled legislation in Parliament for increasing the penalty for murder.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who tabled the legislation – the Offences Against the Person (Amendment) Bill and the Criminal Justice (Administration) (Amendment) Bill – said the increased mandatory minimum sentences prescribed under the bills will provide greater alignment between the sentencing regimes governing serious crimes and the public’s expectations of the justice system.
He contended that the possibility of the imposition of a more punitive sentence will go a long way in preserving the credibility of Jamaica’s justice system in the eyes of individuals traumatised by the untimely deaths of their loved ones. These legislative amendments, Chuck argued, will aid in the fight against the country’s soaring crime rate by ensuring that the applicable penalty matches the severity of the crime.
Details of the legislations
Regarding the Offences Against the Person (Amendment) Bill, it proposes to
- increasing the mandatory minimum sentence for imprisonment, under Section 3(1)(b) from 15 years to 45 years;
- increasing the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole, where the offence is capital murder, from 20 years to 50 years under (3(1C)(a) which deals with eligibility for parole.
- increasing the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole, where the sentence is imprisonment for life from 15 years to 40 years; under section 3(1C)(b)(I); and finally
- increasing the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole, where a sentence of a term of years is given from 10 years to 35 years under 3(1C)(b)(ii).
The Criminal Justice (Administration) (Amendment) Bill proposes to amend section 42(F) of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act by increasing the term of years to be deemed as “life imprisonment” from 30 years to 50 years, where the offence committed is murder.
Chuck explained that the starting point for calculating the reduction in the sentence is usually life imprisonment with the aim of this proposed amendment to maintain an incentive scheme for defendants to plead guilty while ensuring that the reduced sentence is not inordinately low having regard to the serious nature of the offence.
He declared that, in tandem with this very reasoning, the Holness administration is proposing that section 42(E)(3) of the Act be amended to stipulate that the Court shall not impose a sentence that is less than a term of 30 years. The justice minister advised that “a proposed amendment to the Child Care and Protection Act, generally in line with the objective of these two bills, will follow in short order”.
Public discourse invited on the bills
Chuck advised that the Government intends to put the bills before a joint select committee of parliament for further consideration and interrogation while inviting discussions surrounding the framework established in the Criminal Justice Administration Act, as it concerns the reduction of a sentence upon a guilty plea.
He made reference to sentiments expressed that the application of discounts has led to manifestly low sentences being given that do not reflect the nature and seriousness of the offences, arguing that this has left victims and family members dissatisfied with the process towards justice.
The justice minister expresses his personal view that “the regime established under the Plea Negotiations and Agreements Act of 2017 is robust enough to ensure that all the relevant parties, particularly the victims of the crimes and their families, have their say in determining what justice looks like in the circumstances, whilst concurrently increasing the Court’s disposal rate”.
He made reference to the reputational damage to Brand Jamaica resulting from the exceedingly high murder rate and the perceptions of insecurity in the country, cannot be overstated pointing to the urgent need to treat with the scourge of crime in a decisive manner.
The Cabinet Minister indicated that the Prime Minister and the Government are determined to curb the level of violence in the country and, in particular, reduce the incidents of murder.
Case made out for more punitive sentence
He sought to make out a case that the imposition of a more punitive sentence will go a long way in preserving the credibility of Jamaica’s justice system in the eyes of individuals traumatised by the untimely deaths of their loved ones. Chuck emphasised that Jamaica’s extreme reality necessitates that the legislative framework governing mandatory minimum sentences for murder, surpass the average threshold used in other jurisdictions.
He concluded that Jamaica is not taking a novel step in proposing the imposition of the increased mandatory minimum sentencing threshold, as other jurisdictions such as South Africa, Canada, the United Kingdom and certain states in the United States, that are not faced with the level of brutal criminality currently plaguing Jamaica, have established mandatory minimum prison terms ranging from a low of 15 years to a high of 30 years.