By Paul Taylor QC
Caribbean Court of Justice
On Appeal from The Court of Appeal of Barbados
CCJ Appeal No. BBCR2017/004 BB Criminal Appeal Nos. 6 of 2013
Alleyne v The Queen
 CCJ 06 (AJ)S
Sections 35 to 41 Penal System Reform Act of Barbados – Section 14 Criminal Appeal Act of Barbados – sentencing – principles of sentencing – rehabilitation of offender – the meaning of ‘life imprisonment’ – discount for early guilty plea – minimum period to be served
In September 2010, A, and another man, robbed a store. He lobbed two Molotov cocktails into the store which caused a serious fire. Screams were heard coming from the back of the building where six females had concealed themselves to escape the robbery. The six women died of asphyxia resulting from smoke inhalation.
A admitted his participation in the robbery and gave a self-written statement to the Police. He was charged with six counts of murder. He pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to six counts of manslaughter which was accepted by the Director of Public Prosecution.
The judge found that the following were aggravating factors: the intention to rob armed with two Molotov cocktails; the well-executed plan before and after the robbery; the reckless and callous manner in which the robbery was executed; and A’s willingness to readily participate in such an egregious act which resulted in six young women losing their lives.
The judge found that the mitigating factors were A’s early guilty plea; his clean record; his cooperation with the police; and his young age. However, she held that these could not neutralized the gravity of the offence.
After referencing section 36 of the Penal System Reform Act which required that the length of the sentence be commensurate with the gravity of the offence, she sentenced A to six concurrent life sentences. As a condition of his sentence, she ruled that he be included in treatment programmes that would address his cognitive deficiencies identified in the Psychological Report.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the six life sentences and Mr Alleyne then appealed to the CCJ
The CCJ considered whether the imposition of a life sentence necessarily meant incarceration for the natural life of the prisoner.
It came to the attention of the Court that A had been involved in the firebombing of another building in 2010, less than one month before the current incident. A had pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary and arson in relation to that earlier incident. The Court considered that it could take this information into account in the present appeal based upon section 37 of the Penal System Reform Act which empowers the appellate court, to “take into account any information about the offender which is before the court.” [even if it was not available to the sentencing court.]
- Dismissed the suggestion that A’s early guilty plea automatically rendered it impossible for him to be given a life sentence. A discount for an early guilty plea is appropriate and warranted where a sentence for a determinate number of years is contemplated and appropriate. However, the situation is entirely different where an indeterminate sentence such as the sentence of death or of life imprisonment is properly imposed. A discount for an early guilty plea is wholly incompatible with such sentences.
- Was satisfied that the trial judge had considered all the relevant aggravating and mitigating factors as well as the statutory provisions in imposing the life sentences.
- Was entitled to take account of the earlier incident in determining the appropriateness of the sentence imposed, the Court held that the imposition of the life sentences was justifiable. The actions of the Appellant, in not one but two incidents of a similar nature, revealed a callous and/or reckless disregard for human life that must attract stern condemnation from the judiciary.
- In pronouncing a life sentence, it was the duty of the sentencing judge to recommend a minimum period of incarceration to be served for purposes of punishment and deterrence before there could be any possibility of release. The Court noted that the review process provided for in Rule 42 of the Prison Rules, allowing for a review after serving a period of four years, presented the appearance of conflict with the judicial power and responsibility to recommend a minimum period of incarceration and recommended that this situation should be quickly addressed by the Legislature by suitable amendments to the Prison Rules.
- Concluded that in order to secure the objectives of punishment and deterrence evident in the sentencing remarks of the trial judge, whilst not ruling out the possibility of rehabilitation, a minimum period of incarceration for twenty-five years was necessary.
(1) Dismissed the appeal; (2) Upheld the six concurrent life sentences imposed on the Appellant; (3) Recommended that the Appellant should not be eligible for release before serving a minimum period of twenty-five years’ incarceration; and (4) Ordered that this minimum period of incarceration includes the time spent by the Appellant on remand.
Commentary: For the English equivalent of section 37 of the Penal System Reform Act see section 11(3) Criminal Appeals Act 1968, and useful case law regarding its applicability such as Beatty  EWCA Crim 2359.
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