The case of the Jeffrey Gittens v The Queen was a case of “killing by fighting”. Lyndon Weekes began a fight with Jeffrey Gittens and died after Gittens struck him with a rock. Gittens was convicted of murder by the High Court of Barbados and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Barbados Court of Appeal then substituted the conviction of murder for one of manslaughter. The Caribbean Court of Justice upheld Gittens’ right to be heard before sentencing. Since the Court of Appeal did not afford Gittens the opportunity to make a plea of mitigation before being sentenced, the CCJ quashed the original twenty-year sentence and sent the matter back to the High Court in Barbados for sentencing. In the CCJ’s own words:
“The right of a convicted person to be heard before being sentenced is a fundamental aspect of due process, and a sentencing Court has no discretion to deprive a convicted person of that right.”
The CCJ also considered the effect of the Penal System Reform Act of Barbados. The Act provides that where a sentence involving imprisonment is passed, the Court has a duty to state in open court why it is passing such a sentence and to explain to the offender in ordinary language why he is being imprisoned. The Court, in interpreting the Act, ruled that a failure to observe this duty would result in the invalidity of the sentence imposed! Such is the importance the Court has placed on an individual’s right to a fair hearing.
As was stated in the case, the role of the ‘local Court’ in a particular country is to set appropriate guidelines to be followed in sentencing. This is because the judiciary in that country is closer to, and indeed part of, the community whose values and standards are to be vindicated. The role of the CCJ is to ensure that sentences in individual cases comply with the guidelines that have been set.
In this case, the CCJ showed that it is resolute in safeguarding the rights of all persons that come before the Courts in order to ensure that each trial is conducted fairly and properly.