The local legal fraternity has been acquainting themselves with the amendments to a number of laws that have now become the centre of discussions at the commencement of the October sitting of the Criminal Assizes.
Crown Counsel in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Howard Pinnock gave the court an insight of the laws that were recently amended.
According to Pinnock since the sitting of the last sitting of the assizes ,there have been some changes to the laws.
He said the Criminal Code Amendment Act 29 of 2012 that came into effect on September 14 addresses certain concerns the DPP’s Office had with regards to sexual and criminal offenses.
The Crown Counsel announced that rape of a child under 13 years of age has now been increased from a 15-year prison sentence to 30 years, and for a child over 13 but for those under 16 years of age, the penalty has been increased from 5 years to 15 years.
Sexual offenses continue to dominate the cause list with 25 of varying nature.
Among the sexual offenses are 12 cases of rape, and according to the Crown Counsel, this is the most he has seen in any one Criminal Assizes.
There are also four cases of attempted rape, seven cases of unlawful carnal knowledge, and two unnatural connection.
The law has also put the definition of murder in two categories – capital and non-capital.
In clarifying the details of the laws to members of the media, Pinnock said the DPP Office is quite happy with the legislation and what it purports to do since it is concerned about the prevalence of sexual offenses in the country.
He said a section of the law also makes it mandatory for a parent or guardian of a child to report suspected abuse of the child.
It is now a criminal offense if the parent or guardian fails to make the report without a reasonable excuse, and they can be fined up to $15,000.00, or given a term of imprisonment not exceeding seven years.
Pinnock acknowledged that in the past, some parents and guardians tended to frustrate the investigation of general cases of abuse.
Those new laws cover offenses that would have been committed after September 14.
Former President of the Grenada Bar Association (GBA), Ruggles Ferguson said another bit of legislation, the Juvenile Justice Act of 2012, would have challenging effects in relation to the administration of justice.
Ferguson said he had the opportunity to look at the Act that came into effect a few months ago, and it addresses several of the concerns that have always been raised by GBA about the way juveniles are handled.
One of the concerns lawyers have always spoken about is the sentencing of young men to serve a prison term at the Richmond Hill Prisons alongside the “hardened criminals.”
Ferguson said although this is addressed in the Act, the lawyers are still concerned about how juveniles would be handled from the point of bringing them into a police station the moment they are detained and having to interface with prisoners older than them.
He cited the need for structures to be put in place to support the legislation where juveniles can be housed from the moment they are arrested. Juveniles are regarded as persons up to the age of 18.
Senior resident judge, Justice Clare Henry said the amendment of the law now gives judges the authority to sentence offenders to do community services.
Justice Henry said that for members of the Bench, often times sentencing can be the most problematic time in a trial since they are often limited in terms of options.
Madam Justice Margaret Price-Findlay stressed that although the Juvenile Justice Act, which is long, in coming, it is welcomed by everyone in the justice system and that the Act was a wonder piece of legislation.
She joined Ferguson in encouraging the government to put the necessary infrastructure in place, as a matter of urgency, so as to allow the Judicial Officers to implement the Act to its fullest extent.
The female judge said until that happens, the Act remains mere words on paper.