Court of Appeal rules that there is no jurisdiction in Antigua and Barbuda to impose suspended sentences in criminal cases
Director of Public Prosecutions v Shane Williams was an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions against the sentence imposed by a judge on Shane Williams for a guilty plea to a charge of sexual intercourse with a female under the age of 14. The sentence imposed was 2 years’ imprisonment, suspended for 1 year. The main issues on the appeal were (i) whether there was jurisdiction in Antigua and Barbuda to impose suspended sentences in criminal cases; and, (ii) if the court did have jurisdiction to impose suspended sentences, whether it was appropriate to impose such a sentence in the circumstances.
The Court of Appeal observed that the jurisdiction to impose a suspended sentence is a statutory jurisdiction. The Court accepted that the Legislatures in several Commonwealth Caribbean jurisdictions had passed legislation to confer this jurisdiction on their local criminal courts but noted that no such legislation had been passed in Antigua and Barbuda. The Court therefore concluded that the judge had no jurisdiction to impose a suspended sentence, in the present case or any at all. The Court, considered, in the alternative, that even if the courts in Antigua and Barbuda had the jurisdiction to impose suspended sentences, a judge should only impose such a sentence in exceptional circumstances. There were no exceptional circumstances in Williams’ case. The Court therefore found that, on any view, the judge erred in imposing the suspended sentence.
Having determined that the judge did not have jurisdiction to impose a suspended sentence, the Court set aside the judge’s sentence and considered the sentence to be imposed in its place. The Court considered this question against the circumstances of the case, including the fact that Williams only plead guilty after the judge gave an indication of the sentence he would impose if Williams pleaded guilty (a “Goodyear Indication”). The Court found that the manner in which the judge went about giving the Goodyear Indication unduly pressured Williams to plead guilty, and therefore that Williams’ plea was not voluntarily entered. Against that background, the Court considered that both Williams’ conviction and sentence were fundamentally defective and, in those circumstances, justice and fairness required that the Williams’ sentence be reckoned to be the time he already spent on remand – 7 days’ imprisonment.