I attended court to assist a client who had breached the emergency lockdown order over the weekend.
Now my client was inexcusable (don’t worry, I told him that as well), but I’m thinking about those who truly had causes that warrant discretion.
I’m not condoning wilful disregard of the law. These are serious times and persons must adhere to the rules in place.
However, the unfortunate thing about the wording of the penalty for breach is that it’s written to be a strict liability offence.
This means the court has no discretion to provide a pardon; if found guilty, you must be convicted and the offence will appear on your criminal record.
A spate of recent articles in the news should have anyone troubled.
Persons have been arrested, prosecuted and fined for breach of the aforementioned order due to homelessness, the need to get water from the public pump to bathe and for selling coconuts to earn money.
I don’t have to state the obvious here.
The order has to be amended from “is liable” to be fined or imprisoned to “may be liable” to allow judges the latitude to apply punishment justified by the facts and circumstances.
Persons are complaining that the amounts of the fines are also too high and I agree, but consider this — the maximum of the fine is $20,000; therefore, $400 represents just two percent of that fine and $200 represents one percent. So whilst it is extreme in the circumstances, based on the terms of the law, judges are being as lenient as possible.
The law must be amended. Further, these categories of persons cannot afford it. They now have to find monies when their lack of it is why they were found in breach.
I make the additional recommendation that a corresponding social service referral be facilitated for these persons who come before the court in such dire conditions.
They are legally barred from sustaining themselves so they must be assisted.
I also recommend that the expunging of these records (in certain cases) be strongly considered.
Acquiring a job will be severely challenged by the economic outlook; they don’t need a criminal record adding to that difficulty.
No matter the state of emergency, the vulnerable and impoverished must NEVER be oppressed by the law!
It is against God’s law!
— Robyn-Dawn Lynes