The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court officially launched sentencing guidelines for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States on Tuesday morning.

The main purpose of the guidelines is to bring “greater uniformity to sentencing approach throughout the ECSC” and to instill public trust in the judicial branches of the OECS, said Ian Morley, co-chair of the ECSC Sentencing Advisory Committee.

On Tuesday morning, Virgin Islands legal stakeholders participated in a celebration of the launch at the High Court, sitting in on a video broadcast of the ceremony held in Antigua and Barbuda along with the eight other jurisdictions of the OECS.

The guidelines were made public on the ECSC website during the ceremony. So far, there are guidelines for theft, robbery, rape and drug offences. They give detailed explanations for how to quantify the seriousness of an offence and calculate sentences, but they do not change the maximum sentences in any jurisdiction.

For example, the guidelines for drug offences cited an example of two controlled drugs — cocaine and marijuana — which can be categorised into four levels depending on the amount that’s seized. From there, the percentage of a maximum sentence can be determined by the role the defendant played in the situation.

Aggravating and mitigating factors can then be used to adjust the sentence. An early guilty plea, according to the guidelines, should result in a one-third reduction.

“The sentencing guidelines will be under constant review and adaptation,” Mr. Morley said. “And for Easter we hope to have added up to 10 further sentencing guidelines on murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, grievous bodily harm with intent or without intent, actual bodily arm, bribery, fraud, corruption, incest and indecent assault.”

‘Consistent approach’

Dwaymian Brissette, information services and communication manager for the ECSC, said this is the first time uniform guidelines have been adopted by the court system, and that the occasion is significant in the jurisdiction.

Four years ago, the ECSC took on the task of creating a “clear, fair and consistent approach” to sentencing, he said.

The Sentencing Advisory Committee took shape in 2017 and since then there have been numerous emails, edits, and a consultation to create the newly released documents.

Mr. Brissette said the guidelines are designed to reassure the public.

Shortly after the Virgin Islands High Court handed down a six-and-a-half year sentence to a man who killed his wife in front of their children, public outrage over the seemingly lax sentence was heard across social media in mid-July.

In early August, the territory’s legal stakeholders participated in a region-wide training and consultation session hosted by the ECSC.