(CMC) — St Vincent’s Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says the recent case of a man forcing a four year-old to perform a sexual act on him is one in which the court should have departed from the guidelines on sentencing sex offenders.
The man also filmed the child performing the sex act on at least one occasion, the first count of which occurred when the child was around two years-old.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, asked why no charges were brought under the Cyber Crime Act as the video of the sex act was circulated on social media.
Earlier this month, the man, the man pleaded guilty at the Family Court on two counts of indecent assault of the child.
President of the Family Court, Colleen Mc Donald, sentenced him to two years in prison on each count. The sentences will run consecutively.
There had been widespread public outrage over the sentence, with many people, including Opposition Leader, Godwin Friday, calling for stiffer penalties for sex crimes.
But, speaking on radio programme here on Sunday, Prime Minister Gonsalves noting the reaction of the public, said “I want to ask all persons who have been talking that it’s important that we have the factual matrix.”
“Of course, everybody is quite right to be appalled that [it’s] only four years,” Gonsalves told radio listeners adding that that on December 14, the Gazette published, through the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECCB), sentencing guidelines rules for a range of offences.
The ECCB published “A Compendium Sentencing Guideline of The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court” on sexual offences, which was re-issued on November 8.
“In sentencing for these offences, the Chief Justice has issued guidelines and the court must apply the relevant guidelines and sentence accordingly, unless to do so would not be in the interest of justice.
“In other words, a magistrate or a judge can say, ‘Listen to me. I’m not going to apply these guidelines, because these guidelines, this offence, which is before me is so out of the norm, is so abhorrent that the interest of justice will not be served to apply the guidelines,” Gonsalves added.
The Supreme Court, however, noted that a judge or magistrate may only depart from the guidelines in exceptional circumstances, where such departure can be justified.
“Surely, a departure could have been justified in that case,” Gonsalves said, adding that the guidelines say that clear reasons for not applying them must be given when passing sentence.
Under the guidelines, the chief justice states that it is expected that every court will follow the steps, with each relevant step being identified to the offender in public before the sentence is passed.
Gonsalves said that based on the guidelines “If you’re sentencing for more than one offence, this guy had two, albeit of the same. So should they have gone concurrently? Should they have gone consecutively?”
“So that the guidelines are not written in stone, if you see what I mean. They are what they are: guidelines. Now, I’m not making a criticism of the magistrate because I was not sitting there knowing all the facts…
“And then the question is this. Why wasn’t someone charged if you had admissible evidence under the Cybercrime Act? Because I’ve been advised that this crime was on social media. As always, we must have a good discussion on what is at play. But I thought that I would introduce that discussion,” he said.
Gonsalves said that the government is undertaking a comprehensive review of the nation’s sex laws and the attorney general updated the cabinet on this last Wednesday.