The Justice Ministry will set up a Sentencing Advisory Council and introduce Sentencing Guidelines for Sri Lanka’s judicial system and thus prevent anomalies in the sentencing procedure, a senior ministry official said yesterday.
Justice Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamalth said studies conducted by the ministry had revealed there were instances where judges at different courts had sentenced convicts to varying jail terms for similar offences and this reflected badly on the judiciary.
He said a harsh or lenient punishment to two convicts at two courts for similar offences had led to controversies among the legal fraternity and undermined the concept of ‘Natural Justice’.
“A need that has been felt over the years was the non-availability of a proper sentencing guideline to be used in courts. Such guidelines will provide a clearer legal framework for sentencing and bring a greater clarity, fairness and consistency to the process,” Mr. Gamlath said.
He said the Justice Ministry had held a series of meetings with the Australian Attorney General’s Department to develop a policy guideline that could be used by Sri Lanka’s legal authorities.
He said it was agreed at the discussions that the proposed guidelines would include a definition of the general principle of sentencing and the aggravating and mitigating factors, options for sentencing and technical matters and the creation of a data base of judgments both local and international to provide guidelines on sentencing.
“One of the salient features of the proposed policy paper is to create separate provisions to deal with children in conflict and physically impaired people. Another important feature is to establish a Sentencing Advisory Council (SAC) to overview the entire policy framework on sentencing periodically,” Mr. Gamlath said.
He said with regard to the SAC the Justice Ministry would seek the advice and guidance of the Judicial Services Commission to determine the composition of the SAC, its functions, the appointment of members and the powers.
“The availability of sentencing guidelines is obviously sine-qua-non for the exercise of good practices and transparent procedural practices in the criminal justice system,” Mr. Gampalth said.
The proposed legislations were based on the Western Australia Act of 1995, Western Australia Administration Act of 2003, Fines, The New South Wales Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act of 1999 and the Commonwealth Crime Act of 1940, Mr. Gamlath said.
Mr. Gamalath said the Australian government and the Western Australia Justice Ministry had assisted Sri Lanka’s Justice Ministry.
Mr. Gamlath expressed his gratitude to the Australian government, Australian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka and AG’s department for their unstinted support to formulate the guidelines. (Sandun A. Jayasekera)