Tougher penalties for sex offenders could be in the cards after legislators unanimously backed a private members motion to set a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for indecent assault.
The motion, brought by Bodden Town legislator Anthony Eden, follows public dissent, including a petition, over seemingly lenient sentences in recent cases, including a father who was given six months’ jail time for abusing his 8-year-old daughter.
The motion does not immediately change the law. It simply amounts to a commitment from legislators to consider introducing the necessary changes to the Penal Code to set a minimum penalty.
Introducing the motion, Mr. Eden cited a slew of recent cases where sentences had not been strong enough. He said there was an “urgent need” for stiffer penalties.
“We must send a strong message that, whether it is the judiciary or whatever, they cannot get away with slapping someone on the wrists with a pair of socks. It is nonsense,” he said.
Numerous legislators spoke up to support the bill, saying current sentences are too lenient. Sam Bulgin, the attorney general, raised some potential issues over parliament becoming too heavily involved with the business of the judiciary, which is required to have a level of independence under the constitution.
He pointed out that judges did not like their “hands to be tied” and said the usual approach in crafting legislation was for parliament to set a maximum sentence and the court was given the discretion to impose appropriate sentences up to that level.
He acknowledged that the state had a duty to protect the most vulnerable and that mandatory minimum sentences imposed by parliament were not a new concept for the Cayman Islands and had worked successfully as a deterrent in firearms cases.
Mr. Bulgin offered his support to the motion and his chamber’s support to review “how we can build into the legislation further safeguards to protect the most vulnerable in our society.”
Sandra Catron, the community campaigner responsible for an informal sex offenders register on Facebook and a vocal advocate of tougher sentencing for sex offenders, said she was “elated” that the move was even being considered. More than 1,000 people signed a petition organized by Ms Catron protesting various issues related to sex offenses, including lenient treatment of offenders.
“I am cautiously optimistic that this will happen,” she said. “The fact that the motion got unanimous support sends a clear message that the MLAs understand that the majority of people in this community support this. It makes me very happy that this has come up in the Legislative Assembly, but there also needs to be follow-through. It can’t just be something to placate the public that never actually gets passed into law.”