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Chuck: Murder penalties must be commensurate with severity of the crime

By Halshane Burke 

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck says the country's desire for penalties to be commensurate with the severity of the acts perpetrated by criminals cannot be ignored.

Mr. Chuck was speaking in his capacity as chair of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament considering amendments to the Criminal Justice Act, Offences Against the Person Act and Child Care and Protection Act.

The Committee is deliberating on proposed increases in the mandatory minimum sentence for murder.

Mr. Chuck said a clear signal must be sent that people convicted of capital murder should be locked away for a long time. 

"My view is that once they are found and the evidence is compelling and they are convicted, that the state should impose the strongest penalty," he argued. 

Although the death penalty remains on the statute books and there have been calls for it to be used against some perpetrators, Mr. Chuck is not in favour of the measure. 

"But at the end of the day, the alternative to the death penalty must be severe and to send the right signal. I think members should consider for capital murder, whether we shouldn't insist that the sentence is either death or life imprisonment without parole. Another possibility is life imprisonment with a very high minimum mandatory. What has been proposed in the bill is 50 years," he outlined. 

In addition, Minister Chuck said the committee should seriously consider the appropriate treatment for non-capital murder, which he said ranges from the egregious to domestic cases. 

"That is not to say domestic murders are not egregious. But sometimes a lot of it results from the emotional charge and often times when it happens, you see some mitigating factors. These are matters which I feel that for non-capital, the less egregious cases, we need to be able to allow the judge some discretion. That would be my position. How low we go, we must consider. We have started I think at 30 years. Persons have suggested 25."


The joint select committee also contemplated grouping children by age to apply the appropriate penalties.

The Committee is considering instituting a mandatory minimum sentence for children convicted for murder.

Several civic groups have stated that there should be no mandatory minimum sentence for children while others have suggested no more than seven years.

The Child Care and Protection Act stipulates that detention can be no longer than 25 years for children 14 and under.

Mr. Chuck said the young offenders would be split into the 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 age groups.

"If we remove the minimum mandatory, it completely affects what is in the Child Care and Protection Act," he noted. "So the question is that, if we keep it, to what extent we make a division between the different age group and what would be the appropriate minimum mandatory for different sections."