Bernard George Shaw: Open letter to CJ

Greetings to you, Chief Justice. I hope you are enjoying your holiday...

Bernard George Shaw: Open letter to CJ
Bernard George Shaw: Open letter to CJ

Greetings to you, Chief Justice.

I hope you are enjoying your holiday.

Please indulge me, for, as it were, rudely interrupting your vacation with yet.

another edition of my epistles on criminal justice reforms.

Today’s version focuses on a vital aspect of the criminal justice system: sentencing.

In my humble opinion, there is an urgent need to overhaul the whole.

sentencing regime, as it is at once discriminatory and incoherent.

To begin with, there is an urgent need to have a coherent and.

consistent sentencing regime as the current system leaves much to be desired.

We have all heard of the hue and cry that frequently erupts in.

the country when convicted persons are given long sentences for petty crimes.

It’s not uncommon to read sensational headlines in the press like “Man sentenced.

25 years for stealing goat” or “Convict jailed 15 years for stealing yam”.

Even worse, there is no uniformity in the sentencing regime where different courts.

consistently hand out diverse sentences for the same offence.

The panacea for such abnormalities is to have proper sentencing guidelines.

As you are very aware, sentencing guidelines help judges identify what type and.

length of sentence they should impose and set factors they should consider before making their.

final decision.

Their beauty is that they bring uniformity and consistency to the law as.

judges and magistrates must sentence convicted persons according to the guidelines unless it would be.

unjust to do so.

This enables judges and lawyers alike to reasonably predict sentences for both clients.

and the general public.

That way, vast differences in the sentences handed down in different courts for.

the same offences would be a thing of the past.

Another area in which reform is needed, and which is closely linked.

to the above, is the practice of giving discounts to persons who plead guilty to.

charges before trial.

In some major jurisdictions, such persons get a discount on the eventual/final sentence.

For example, in England, section 152 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing).

Act 2000 gives statutory effect to the already well-established principle that credits should be given.

for pleading guilty.

Section 152 requires the court to take into account the stage in the.

proceedings at which the offender indicated his/her intention to plead guilty and the circumstances in.

which this indication was given.

Ordinarily, in England, the usual credit for pleading guilty in a case, where.

a custodial sentencing, is likely, is a one-third (1/3) reduction in that sentence (R v.


Such a system has many advantages but its obvious benefit to the court.

system is that it saves the court and, by extension the state, time, money and.

expense, especially in long trials.

Accused persons will plead guilty, conscious of the fact that their eventual punishment.

in terms of time to serve in prison will be reduced by a third.

In Ghana, because there is no such incentive, accused persons insist on NOT.

GUILTY pleas in even the most straightforward cases.

I have personal experience of cases that have dragged on for years and.

I am sure such accused persons would have taken advantage of that option, were it.

to have been available.

This, I believe, can be one of the factors that can contribute to.

the reduction of court time and ultimately lead to the decongestion of prisons.

Talking of reducing the number of incarcerated persons another area that will.

significantly help in that direction is the introduction of community sentences.

There is a plethora of minor offences that, in my opinion, do not.

justify prison terms.

The prison population would be significantly reduced if community sentences were introduced for.

minor/petty offences which comprise the bulk of cases going.

Through our courts, I am very much aware of the arguments of those.

who advocate that such sentences (that is community ones) take away the deterrent aspect of.

prison sentences.

I have anecdotal evidence that clearly points to the contrary.

I remember a very prominent client of mine who was sentenced to a.

community sentence – to sweep the streets of Walthamstow in East London for a month.

– who completely reformed after that because of the shame this brought him.

Permit me to end here and ‘chill’ small.

After all, we are supposed to be on legal break.

Enjoy your vacation, my Lady, and bye for now.

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