Bermuda’s top judge has ordered a review of sentencing policy in child sex abuse cases.

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley disclosed the move after concern was expressed by children’s rights advocates that some sentences do not reflect the gravity of offences.

Jon Brunson of SCARS, which tackles child sex abuse, and Sheelagh Cooper of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, united to criticise a suspended six month sentence handed out last week to a man for sexual offences involving a 14-year-old girl.

Mr Kawaley said: “Over the next 12 months the Judiciary will develop for publication a policy document summarizing sentencing guidelines for sexual offences tried in the Magistrates’ Court.”

Ms Cooper says there is wide disparity in sentencing — with offences against underage boys appearing to be treated more harshly by the courts than those involving young girls. And Mr Brunson called for child sex abuse awareness training, which is provided by SCARS, to be made compulsory for judges and lawyers involved in child sex cases.

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley has ordered a review of sentencing in child sex abuse cases — and added that child protection groups would be consulted as part of the process.

Chief Justice Kawaley disclosed the move to us after child protection experts criticized a Magistrate after a 22-year-old man, Ajani Albuoy-Lovell, was given a suspended sentence for sex offences against a 14-year-old girl.

Passing sentence, Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner said there were “special circumstances” – including the “willing and eager participation of the victim.”

Child advocates (see story below) united to protest at the light sentence — and added that it was part of a pattern of failure by the judicial system to treat sexual offences against minors seriously enough.

The Chief Justice told us that “with the benefit of hindsight to a lay person the language used by the court to describe the victim’s role may have been expressed in unfortunate terms.” But he added that — after a review of the official record, including social inquiry reports and the prosecution summing up — that the sentence was appropriate. Chief Justice Kawaley said: “While it is self-evident that consent of a child victim will generally be an irrelevant consideration for sentencing in such cases, there will often be circumstances where the amount of coercion used by the offender and the role played by the victim will be relevant factors to be referred to by the prosecution and to be mentioned by the sentencing judge as occurred in the present case.”

Chief Justice Kawaley said that Albuoy-Lovell had already served three months in prison on remand before he was sentenced.

He added: “The sentencing takes place according to a coherent set of legal principles laid down both by legislation and in judicial decisions made by appellate courts.

“These principles are always subject to change and the input of special interest groups is always valuable.

“Sexual offences against children seems to be an area of the law where the courts sometimes feel special interest groups have a limited appreciation of the sentencing process and the special interest groups sometimes perceive that the courts lack a refined appreciation of how these sorts of cases ought to be handled.”

Chief Justice Kawaley said: “Over the next 12 months the judiciary will develop for publication a policy document summarizing sentencing guidelines for sexual offences tried in the Magistrates’ Court and seek input from special interest groups including those that Mr Brunson and Ms Cooper represent.”

By Raymond Hainey, Senior Reporter Bermuda Sun