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Turnquest Defends Mandatory Minimum Sentences

By KHRISNA VIRGIL

Tribune Staff Reporter

kvirgil@tribunemedia.net

FORMER National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest yesterday defended the Ingraham administration’s decision to introduce mandatory minimum sentences, insisting it was “a pity” that the judiciary had not fully supported the initiative. Minimum mandatory sentences were enacted in 2011 with the previous administration’s passing of a collection of bills intended to fight escalating crime levels. Since then, several members of the judiciary have called for the government to reconsider the law.

On Wednesday, State Minister for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez said the government expected to repeal the law with the introduction of the Abolition of Mandatory Minimum Sentences Bill. That bill was tabled in the House of Assembly with three other amendments.

However, Mr Turnquest told The Tribune that when the Free National Movement enacted mandatory minimum sentences, the intention was to ensure that repeat offenders felt the weight of the law.

“I absolutely do not feel as if it was a flawed law,” Mr Turnquest said when contacted for comment. “When we brought that law to the House and ultimately passed it, the idea was to combat crime and the levels it was reaching. We wanted to keep hardened criminals and repeat offenders behind bars.

“We were in a crisis and during such instances the state, the government, has an obligation to do what it has to do for the protection of the people. We did what needed to be done at the time.

“It is a pity that the judiciary cannot err on the side of this law. As that is the case, I don’t see why the government would keep it on the books if judges don’t find it effective or don’t agree.”

According to the Abolition of Mandatory Minimum Sentences Bill, the changes will “render of no effect any requirement of a court to impose a minimum term of imprisonment.

“Where a provision in any law has the effect of requiring a court to impose a minimum term of imprisonment that provision, to the extent of that requirement, shall be of no effect,” the bill says.

On Wednesday Mr Gomez told The Nassau Guardian that judges have taken exception on the issue of sentencing. With that view, he said the law interfered with the fair treatment of persons.

In January, Court of Appeal President Anita Allen said mandatory minimum sentences had placed an immense pressure on the appellate court. She specifically referred to the mandatory minimum sentences for drug, firearm and ammunition possession.

“Moreover, it is, in my view, an injudicious use of judicial time to have three senior justices doing what magistrates could have done if they had the discretion to impose the appropriate sentence in the first place,” she said at the time.

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