Sometimes legislation that sounded like a good idea at the time just doesn’t pan out.
That’s what is happening with the Firearms (Amendment) Bill that was approved in the Legislative Assembly and Cabinet in 2005.
That bill imposed a mandatory sentence of 10 years for firearms offences.
We have to remember what was going on in 2005 to realise why such a law was proposed and indeed passed.
Hurricane Ivan occurred in September the year before and looters immediately took to the streets to take advantage of a horrible situation.
From that point, crime increased and the citizens of the Cayman Islands were calling upon Government and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service to stop it.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts, speaking at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, said ‘This Government has not tried to dodge the obvious or deny the existence of gangs, guns and the growing sub-culture. We have therefore sought to strengthen legislation to take the fight to the criminals at all levels.’
It was a good effort and crime has decreased.
But the 10-year mandatory sentence for firearms offences has proven to be a bit much.
What lawmakers did, essentially, was take away what judges do best – judge.
The law ties the hands of judges, keeping them from making the kinds of decisions they are most qualified to make.
One can imagine a computer sitting on the bench, using only formulas to sentence those found guilty in the court; a most unpleasant image.
We would prefer to have actual thinking, feeling human beings behind the bench, able to use their discretion to judge the case before them on its merits.
Judges should be able to look at all the facts in every case and be given the leeway to sentence based on circumstances.
The law also puts into the hands of the prosecution the minimum sentencing outcome of firearms offence cases.
They 10-year sentence is mandatory in Grand Court. It isn’t in Summary Court, where the maximum sentence for firearms offences is four years.
It is planned that this flawed law will be amended once more in the Legislative Assembly to give judges the leeway they need – especially in extraordinary ciricumstances.
Sometimes legislation works. Sometimes it doesn’t.