Confusing Firearms Act forced DPP to appeal life sentence says Golding
KINGSTON, Jamaica— Opposition Leader Mark Golding says the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Paula Llewelyn, was forced to appeal the life sentence handed to a St Catherine man under the new Firearms Act “because there are incoherencies in the law as passed by this Parliament, and those need to be fixed”.
Golding made the comment Tuesday in the House of Representatives during a debate on a statement made by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on the “barbaric killing” of three people, including two school boys, in Salt Spring, St James on Monday.
Holness did not speak to the DPP’s decision but said “I have given directives to the Minister of National Security and the Minister of Justice to bring the necessary amendments to the Firearms Act to ensure that there is no ambiguity, no lack of clarity in the application of the penalties recommended by this House”.
The new Firearms Act, with prescribed sentences of up to life imprisonment for certain offences, was enacted in November 2022.
Golding noted that the strategy of the Government in recent times is to bring legislation to the Parliament to extend the sentencing rules thus creating harsher penalties for murder and gun offences among others.
He reminded that the parliamentary Opposition supported the new firearms legislation; however, Golding also reminded that the Opposition had also raised its concerns about the new law. He said these concerns were now manifesting themselves.
“So we have a situation where the courts recently imposed a penalty of life imprisonment for possession of a firearm and the DPP is appealing that,” said Golding.
“Normally, when a harsh sentence is imposed it is the counsel for the defence that appeals. In this instance it’s the DPP, the state’s prosecutor who’s appealing…”Golding pointed out, at which point he was interrupted by members of the government side, with one member shouting “you’re a horrible leader”.
When he resumed speaking after House Speaker Juliet Holness admonished “both sides” and demanded that the Opposition leader be heard in silence, Golding said his point is that “the appeal is necessary because there are incoherencies in the law as, passed by this Parliament and those need to be fixed”.
Golding reminded that during the debate on the Firearms Bill, he did warn that “imposing mandatory sentences in the way we have, we’re risking a new era of backlog in the criminal justice system. Because the fact of the matter is that to the extent we prevent persons from pleading guilty, so as to get a lesser sentence than the mandatory minimum, the extent it is going to be for persons to go to trial”.
Like the prime minister, Golding condemned “in the most profound terms, the act of extreme violence and depravity with which those two young Jamaican schoolboys lost their lives”.
He highlighted that an automatic weapon was used to indiscriminately fire into a taxi in which the two boys, seven and nine years old, were travelling. The Opposition leader said too often innocent people are caught up in gang conflict “and end up either losing their lives or being permanently paralysed, or otherwise physically impaired, and no doubt emotionally, as a result of this kind of violence”.