Young offender’s sentence reviewed

A young person who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2001 returned to Grand Court last Friday for a review of his sentence.

His appearance was the result of a judgment handed down by the Court of Appeal during its April sitting.

Cayman’s highest court said young people convicted of a serious crime should no longer be sentenced to imprisonment ‘during Her Majesty’s pleasure’.

The reason is that sentencing is part of the judicial process, carried out by the judges of the courts. This branch of government is the Judiciary.

Her Majesty the Queen is represented in Cayman by the Governor and he is part of the Executive branch of government. He does not have judicial powers.

The Court of Appeal said the young person’s sentence of custody was appropriate and ordered that he be imprisoned ‘during the court’s pleasure’ instead of her Majesty’s.

In August 2001, Justice Henry Graham handed down the sentence after hearing the background of the incident and of the offender.

The young person had gone to a late-night gathering in George Town in October 2000. He became involved in a confrontation with an older teen and struck him with a knife.

The offender, 14 at the time, said shortly afterwards that he did intend to hurt his victim but did not intend to kill him.

Justice Graham imposed the sentence under the Youth Justice Law, although he referred to the Governor’s pleasure instead of Her Majesty’s. He recommended that the young person serve a minimum of six years before release on licence; if release did not take place at that time, there was to be annual review.

Howard Hamilton QC, instructed by Attorney Keith Collins, represented the young person in 2001 and presented his appeal in December. The arguments were brief because Attorney General Samuel Bulgin agreed on the principle of separation of powers.

The young offender’s sentence review took place as soon as possible after the Court of Appeal issued the reasons for its decision.

Justice Levers summed it up as meaning that a young person’s sentence is up to the court and legislation must be changed accordingly.

Mr. Hamilton said now the position was settled, but there were still people in Northward Prison ‘at Her Majesty’s pleasure’.

Justice Levers said it was up to the Attorney General now to see that justice was done and such people were brought before the court. ‘I am sure a review of those cases will be done,’ she said.

In the case of the young person before her, she said the question was whether he had been rehabilitated and punished sufficiently. Her concern was that, if he were released, he would be going back to the same crowd, the same neighbourhood.

She thought that part of his punishment would have been psychological – being in prison but not knowing when he was going to be released.

Mr. Hamilton agreed. An adult at least knows his sentence and can calculate his date of release, he said. But even having a review after a specific period is not definitive.

Crown Counsel Trevor Ward said the court had to be satisfied that the young person was ready to be released. He referred to reports filed by various professionals who had seen the young person. ‘They do not believe he is ready,’ Mr. Ward said.

On a number of occasions, the young person had tested positive for ganja, Mr. Ward told the court.

Mr. Hamilton said the most recent ganja use was around the time of the Court of Appeal decision. The young person could have been frustrated because he had an expectation of being released. He has been in custody since October 2000.

Justice Levers told the young offender he had to prove that he intended to be a good citizen – not just for two weeks before coming to court. ‘You have to prove you’re going to stick to your new way of life.’

She suggested ways he could show that he was ready to move back into society and directed that he be brought back in November.

The young offender thanked her. ‘I have something to look forward to now,’ he said.

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