Ministry of Public Security, Guyana, Wednesday, September 7, 2016
The Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking in Persons wishes to publicly voice its concern regarding a recently concluded court case on trafficking in persons which received coverage in the local news media.
The defendant in the case, Ms. Joyce Lawrence of Plantation Grove, was convicted on September 5, 2016 of two offences: trafficking a 16-year old female for labour exploitation and unlawful withholding of an identification document. The sentence as it relates to the trafficking in persons charge was an order by the Court to pay G$884,000 as restitution to the survivor or face 12 months imprisonment as an alternative. Ms. Lawrence was also fined G$50,000 on the charge of unlawful withholding of an identification document in default of which she would face eight weeks in prison.
The Task Force is pleased that the prosecution was successful in establishing a case beyond a reasonable doubt against the perpetrator of the crime, and that a conviction was achieved. However, both sentences were non-custodial whereas the penalties in the legislation specify mandatory terms of imprisonment on summary conviction of these offences.
The Task Force acknowledges that Her Worship, the Chief Magistrate would have considered the details of the case in a manner deemed as just and suitable for the crime committed. It is understood that the crime of trafficking in persons can be perpetrated in different ways, that no two cases are exactly the same, and that there are fundamental differences between labour exploitation and sexual exploitation.
However, the concern of the Task Force is concentrated on the precedent that the decision to not have the perpetrator serve mandatory jail time would set, especially given that the survivor was a minor. It is of utmost importance that offenders are dealt with in such a manner that it will serve as a strong deterrent to other potential perpetrators, thus reducing incidence of these crimes in the future.
It was noted by the Legal Issues Sub-Committee of the Task Force that Section 3. (1) of the Combating Trafficking in Persons Act, No. 2 of 2005 states that “Whoever engages in or conspires to engage in, or attempts to engage in, or assist another person to engage in or organizes or directs other persons to engage in “trafficking in persons” shall – (i) on summary conviction (a) be sentenced to not less than three years nor more than five years imprisonment; (b) be subject to forfeiture of property under section 7; and (c) be ordered to pay full restitution to the trafficked person or persons under section6. Therefore, the sentence in this case ought to have included a term of imprisonment in addition to the restitution ordered by the court.
Additionally, Section 4 of the Combating Trafficking in Persons Act, No. 2 of 2005 states that “Any person who for the purpose of trafficking in persons, and acting or purporting to act as another person’s employer…knowingly procures, destroys, conceals, removes, confiscates, or possesses any passport, immigration document, whether actual or purported, belonging to another person commits an offence and shall on summary conviction be fined one million dollars together with imprisonment for not more than five years.” Therefore, by interpretation, a conviction for ‘unlawfully withholding of identification paper’ must include both a fine and imprisonment.
The Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking in Persons wishes to state that it does not seek to criticise esteemed officials regarding the carrying out of their functions, and recognises their commitment to the cause of eradicating trafficking in persons from our shores.
By the same token, the Task Force is committed to working with the Judicial and Prosecutorial Authorities in Guyana to improve efforts in ensuring that penalties meted out to perpetrators of human trafficking are commensurate with the offence committed and act as effective deterrents to potential offenders.