Dear Editor,
I think there are far too many harsh sentences for criminals in the assassination. I read almost every month, at least twice in your newspaper widely read here in the diaspora, about criminals convicted of capital crime – and in particular, the recent sentence that Foster Gravesande of Mahaica received at Demerara Assize – and no one in the judicial hierarchy seems to be concerned about the harshness of the sentences imposed on them.
As a former practitioner in Guyana myself, and with a keen sense of fair play in civil society, I would like to say that Guyana should take a closer look at its sentencing laws and principles used by judges, and introduce new legislation in line with that, to suit the times.
Here in Ontario in 2021, first, a good sentencing technique that a judge often uses on a person like Foster Gravesande, who, from what I read on page 12> The January 8, 2021 issue said: “The only thing about me is that I like enough women …” (conviction tells Judge … imprisoned for 56 years after killing a neighbor ‘), who has being an exemplary citizen and exemplary prisoner for the past 4 years, would be to declare him a dangerous offender because of the nature and seriousness of his crime.
In Ontario, such designation would often result in an indeterminate sentence from a judge, with eligibility to apply for parole after seven years, due to statutory legal guidelines. The learned judge in Guyana granted Mr Gravesande the 56-year quantum, with eligibility for parole after 28 years.
As a lawyer, such a sentence is very interesting. I find it interesting because if one is sent to the “slammers” for 60 years or more, with eligibility for parole more than 25 years, and as with Gravesande – eligibility for parole after 28 years – you certainly never get parole, basically, when you are in your early fifties, as Mr. Gravesande.
Now, in my humble opinion, that portion of the sentence is cruel and inhuman, and should be addressed by the legislators and / or the Chancellor and / or the AG, because it is not ‘ cruel and inhuman only, but unknowing and difficult for me to do. spent as a person living in civil society.
The purpose of prisons, among other things, is to rehabilitate.
Why would a judicial officer find it appropriate to say that an offender is eligible for parole until at least his 78th year, when the average lifespan of a citizen in Guyana does not allow him to pass his 63rd year? I ask, is that how we should act when we wear the cap of justice in 2021? Justice, to me, must mean something a little more encompassing and dynamic. Especially if, for the past 4 years, such a person has been a model prisoner while in prison. Aren’t there any real secrets shared in Guyana’s imprisonment regime by these critics?
Here in Ontario, the sentencing regime only allows the sentencing judge’s concrete parameter, and if a judge exceeds those parameters, his District Supervisor, a senior judge, will “charge” that judge to keep “in and out”; and short of that, at an appeal hearing, strong words are brought to such a judge by the appellate tribunal.
Further, with Ontarian judges, I have discovered that they would use 7 years as eligibility for parole as a yardstick for when even the most dangerous offender with first-degree murder faces them in the courtroom. The Ontarian justice system deeply respects human dignity and the right of an offender to make amends for a wicked act, to rehabilitate himself and then return to society, and the sentencing laws are aimed at that.
Although I personally agree that murderers have to face the music, the sentencing regime is now juxtaposed with a more rehabilitative approach than one that simply says, “Electrocute him – he deserves it ! ” In fact, Bill Blair, a former Toronto Police Chief, now Minister at Trudeau’s Cabinet in Canada, advocates for residents and assembled venue staff, ie correctional facilities, “to receive C-19 vaccines in front of any and all all Police and firefighters during January 2021 and beyond.
I feel that Guyana should take the lead from the Ontarian jurisdiction, known for its excellent judicial sentencing regime. And even looking at common law principles, my argument would still apply; that is, making an offender wait 28 years for parole eligibility is egregious.
Following the decision of the learned judge at the Demerara Assize Court, I wonder what would have happened to the thinking processes of the lawyer who appeared for the defense at the Sentencing Hearing for the rest of that rather unfortunate day, much less Mr Gravesande, the offender himself .

M Shabeer Zafar
Barrister, Solicitor,
Notary, in Canada

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