Is sending manslaughter convicts to prison the best remedy?

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

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The case of Shortwood Teachers’ College Principal Dr Christopher Clarke, who was on Tuesday this week ordered to pay $2 million or serve 12 months behind bars, should invite our most serious contemplation.

Justice Vinnette Allen-Graham, presiding in the St Catherine Circuit Court, also ordered the suspension of Dr Clarke’s driver’s licence for 12 months, after finding him guilty on February 20, 2017 of causing the death of pillion rider Yvonne Brown by dangerous driving.

The unfortunate incident took place along the Old Harbour main road in St Catherine on March 16, 2014. News reports of the crash did not give details about the fate of the rider of the motorcycle or biographical information on the deceased.

The Clarke case brings to mind the unofficial story in which a minister of government, now deceased, is said to have found himself in a similar situation but offered to take care of the two young children of the man he had accidentally killed, in place of going to prison.

The negotiations allegedly took place quietly with the family of the deceased who agreed that without the breadwinner, the children would have no one to care for them financially and would most likely drop out of school. The matter, therefore, did not go to trial.

We know of nowhere in law that such negotiations are allowable but we stand to be corrected.

No doubt, there are those who would argue strenuously that the law should take its course at all times. Indeed, some of those commenting on the case of the Shortwood College principal are suggesting that his punishment should have been harsher because a life has been taken.

Some have gone even further to say that had the convicted person been of lesser standing in society, the judge would not have been as lenient or so ready to accept the testimony of the character witnesses who spoke of the great value of Dr Clarke to the society.

So the big question is, which is a better remedy: sending the guilty driver to prison or giving him or her financial responsibility for children left behind by their breadwinner?

We in this space have always maintained that we are a nation of men and not laws. Yet we see the absolute good sense in the option of ordering the individual guilty of manslaughter to maintain the children of the deceased, as against sending him/her to waste away in prison at a cost to the country; with the added potential that the children could become a charge on society.

Obviously there are several factors to be considered, including the ability of the driver to carry out such fiduciary responsibility, especially if there are multiple children left behind; the proven value of the individual to society; and how the requisite legislation would impact on our traffic laws.

Perhaps this is something that our legal luminaries might wish to weigh in on.




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