Two lawyers today won a battle before the Court of Appeal against the controversial sentencing of a Jamaican national to six months in prison for breaking this country’s COVID-19 laws.
And, Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim welcomed the court’s decision to reduce the sentence to two months and free Dean George Scott on “time served” saying Barbados’ judicial system should not use incarceration to “criminalise people too easily”.
In fact, the defense attorney said jail should be for the “really bad situations, the worst of the worst, extremely heinous offences”.
Pilgrim shared his position as the court upheld the magistrature appeal brought by him and legal counsel Michelle Russell on behalf of the 49-year-old Jamaican visitor, who had been serving time at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds imposed by Chief Magistrate Ian Weekes last December after he was unable to pay a $6 000 fine ordered. He had pleaded guilty to contravening Paragraph 14 of the Emergency Management (COVID-19) Curfew (No.4) Directive 2020 after he left quarantine at the St Lucy District Hospital without reasonable explanation, telling the court he went off the premises to purchase “Fanta and other stuff” at a shop.
The CARICOM national walked out of the St Philip facility early this afternoon after the panel of Appeal judges – Chief Justice Sir Patterson Cheltenham, Madam Justice Margaret Reifer and Justice Rejendra Narine – allowed his appeal and set him free.
Scott had been sentenced to six months in prison However, at a virtual sitting this morning – as Scott listened via Zoom from Dodds – the No. 1 Supreme Court ruled that the six-month sentence imposed by the No. 1 District ‘A’ Magistrates’ Court on December 29, 2020 had been varied to two months.
“The time for which is deemed to have been served at the rising of this court,” the judges noted. “This order is subject to the strict adherence of all protocols on the appellant’s safe release from Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds.
“The court will rise in the next 90 seconds and at that moment the appellant is a free man and he is to be released from Dodds once all health protocols are in place. If they are in place he should be freed immediately.
“The written decision will be available on or before Wednesday next week,” Sir Patterson said as he delivered the ruling following yesterday’s submissions by Scott’s lawyers and public prosecutors for the respondent Senior Crown Counsel Oliver Thomas and Crown Counsel Danielle Mottley.
Barbados TODAY understands that Scott is making plans to leave the island by Sunday.
In reacting to today’s decision Pilgrim said he was pleased for his client as the entire ordeal had been a “very difficult time” for him.
“It’s good to see the Court of Appeal trying to get consistency because that is what everybody wanted to see. To see that the approach to sentencing is the same for everyone and to stay away from incarceration as much as possible and reserve incarceration for the extremely heinous offences,” he said.
In a clear reference to Scott’s original sentence, Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY, “It seems like we were going off the rails there a little bit. Hopefully, this decision will remind everybody that we need to reserve incarceration for really bad situations, the worst of the worst, and not to criminalize people too easily.”
He added, “Unfortunately, this decision cannot address the issue of remanding people to think about what to do in a summary jurisdiction which is something I am hoping we will see fade away as well.”
Pilgrim also applauded the work of his colleagues at the Bar who have been assisting some accused.
“It is good to see the response of lawyers, some lawyers coming out doing what they can do helping people who do not have resources. Good to see the lawyers doing some pro bono and other kinds of representation – all can’t be pro bono but being able to help people quickly,” he stated.