Some sentences don’t reflect offence committed
Published on: Sunday, March 25, 2018

IT was distressing to read that a couple who killed their Cambodian domestic worker by slowly starving her to death will not even spend 10 years in jail after taking into consideration “good behaviour”.

Two years ago, the couple were sentenced to 24 years’ jail by the Sessions Court on a charge of culpable homicide.

The Court of Appeal subsequently sentenced them to death on a murder charge.

These two sentences reflect the severity of the crime.

However, the Federal Court ruled that the murder conviction and the conviction of culpable homicide not amounting to murder with intention to cause death were “not safe”.

One cannot help but question what are the new facts or insights the Federal Court had privy to that led it to reduce the sentence to less than half of the original 22 years that the court of first instance saw fit to impose.

The plea by the defence counsel that the couple had shown remorse is untenable.

If indeed they were remorseful, they should have pleaded guilty and cast themselves at the mercy of the court.

On the same day, the same court upheld the death sentence of a man found guilty of murdering a woman while she was out jogging based on circumstantial evidence.

In this case, the Federal court said that circumstantial evidence showed that the accused was the person responsible for causing the death of the victim.

While we are not in favour of the death penalty, any sentence meted out by the courts should reflect the severity of the offence. In this case, it was not a crime of passion, nor was the death caused in a fit of rage or momentary loss of sanity.

The domestic worker was systematically starved to death over a period of time. We feel that the original sentence of 22 years’ jail much more appropriate.

As stated by the deputy public prosecutor, the crime occurred over a period of time and the sentence should send the right message to the public that wanton cruelty to poor and marginalised persons in our country should not be treated lightly.

Unfortunately, the 10-year sentence with possibility of a one-third remission sends the wrong message.

Now that “justice has been done”, it is pertinent to ask if the family of the domestic worker will be compensated in any way for the tragic loss of their loved one. And will this couple be barred from employing another domestic worker?

One may argue that these are not the functions of the court, but true justice can only be seen to be done if the judicial and legal framework in the country automatically provides for such remedies without the need for expensive and protracted civil litigation.

As was stated by the human rights NGO Tenaganita in its International Migrant Day statement (Dec 18), “... as a society, we can no longer remain oblivious to the injustices suffered by the migrant workers while enjoying the fruits of their labour. We do not want a nation that is built with the blood and broken bones of migrant workers.”


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