ome court sentences are lame and others are misdirected.
Others are unfair and some are harsh.
Still others are so lenient as to make a mockery of the weight of the crime committed.
But once in a while there comes a sentence that is maddening.
One such infuriating sentence was passed in a High Court last week.
Three women were convicted for the murder of a mentally challenged girl at an initiation school in 2005.
At the time of her untimely death the victim had a three-month old baby.
She had begged her parents to allow her to go to the initiation school in the mistaken belief that it would help her heal.
But instead of being cured she was beaten to death by the very people who were supposed to look after her.
Although the prosecution had alleged that the three women had harvested the victim’s body parts for ritual purposes the judge said the evidence to back that assertion was circumstantial.
What was beyond doubt, the judge said, was that the three women had brutally murdered the poor woman.
The trio was therefore guilty of murder, the judge ruled.
There was nothing particularly startling about the judgment until it got to the sentencing.
Ten years behind bars is what the judge gave each of the three women.
Scrutator almost fell off her chair when she saw the sentences.
So let’s get this right: three women brutally murder an ill and defenceless woman and the only punishment they get is 10 years behind bars.
If that is not a slap on the wrist then what is?
It’s like pinching a murderer as punishment.
ou don’t need to be a law expert to see that the punishment here is not commensurate with the crime committed.
A punishment must be proportionate to the crime committed.
That is natural justice. It’s not law but a simple fact of life.
It is patently unfair to send a chicken thief to the gallows.
A parent cannot cut their child’s fingers because he has stolen a penny.
It is harsh, cruel and grossly unfair.
In the same way, a man who steals a banana from a vendor cannot spend the same time in jail as a cattle rustler.
A bank robber and a pickpocket at Pitso Ground cannot be punished in the same way.
The point here is that there is a general understanding that a punishment must be appropriate to the crime or transgression committed.
The sentence on the three women cannot pass this simple test of fairness in both law and life.
It cheapens human life, something that is sacrosanct according to any religion in the world.
It equates a ruthless murderer to a car thief.
crutator is no lawyer but she knows an unfair sentence when she sees one.
This one is just that, a spank in the bottoms for those judged to have committed a hideous crime.
You see, a sentence must be fair to both the criminal and their victim.
After it has been passed the victim or their relative must feel that justice has been done and the criminal must not feel hard done by.
In a murder case the punishment must give some form of closure to the bereft relatives. Every day they must remember their departed loved one but still get some solace in the fact that the murderer has been adequately punished.
Sufficiently punishing the murderer does not bring back their loved one but it helps soothe their pain.
It is not enough but at least it helps them to know that the one who committed the crime is paying for their actions.
The sentences on the three women achieve none of that.
It neither brings closure to the remaining relatives nor makes the murderers feel that they are paying for their crime.
There is nothing as angering as a sentence so lenient as to make the convicted laugh all the way to jail.
These sentences have the potential to make the convicted women give each other “high fives” as they enter the prison.
How can they not? They killed a human being but they will serve sentences of someone who killed someone’s cow.
Those sentences send a wrong message to the community.
Sentencing is a matter of public policy.
Heinous crimes can only be curbed if sentences on those who commit them are deterrent enough.
The idea here is that sentences must provide lessons to those convicted and those who have not committed a crime.
The convict must feel the pain of their actions and those who haven’t committed crimes must see those convicted feeling the pain.
In the end the convict learns from experience while the innocent learns through observation.
The ultimate winner is society.
If thieves don’t respect people’s property at least they must be afraid of what the law will do to them.
If murderers don’t respect human life at least they must be scared of what the courts will do to them.
Scrutator is not saying the three convicts should have been hanged. No. She has never been a proponent of capital punishment.
The point is that if the courts cannot hang murderers then at least they must disrupt their lives severely with a heavy punishment.
Only with more time away from their loved ones, will murderers know how the relatives of their victims feel.
It’s not tit for tat but simple justice.
hat makes this case particularly disheartening is that justice was delayed, and when it eventually arrived it was not enough.
For eight torturous years the relatives of the victim waited for justice to be done.
The child that the murder victim left is now eight years old.
My heart bleeds for this child.
While the victim’s relatives were struggling to come to terms with their loss the suspects were going on with their lives.
They were perambulating the streets as free as wild birds.
In those eight years of freedom the suspects most probably attended countless weddings and parties.
They probably gave birth.
They lived their lives while the relatives of the victim mourned.
Such is the terrible nature of the justice system. The impact of crime on the victim and their relatives is instant but justice moves slowly.
In a functional justice system the period between commission of a crime and delivery of justice must not be unreasonably long.
But in Lesotho we have come to accept that we can wait for years for justice to be done.
We don’t like it but we have come to understand that that’s just the way it is.
So we patiently wait for we know that justice will face hurdles before it arrives.
We wait, knowing that in Lesotho crime sprints while justice crawls.
We wait for justice because we want to believe that when it eventually comes it will equalise in some way.
However, over the past years we have seen that in Lesotho justice is not only painfully slow but also incapable of equalising when it comes.
It rarely levels matters.
More often than not it leaves the affected with gaping wounds.
And in some cases it even adds salt and pepper to those wounds. The sentences on the three women do just that.
crutator is aware that after reading this article some people are going to scream for her to be hauled over the coals for alleged contempt of court.
But she is unfazed by that remote prospect for she knows that she has a right to get angry with anything and anyone.
The role of courts of law in passing sentences is subject to public criticism.
Scrutator hasn’t peed in a village well or “taken a dump” at the ancestors’ graves.
There is nothing contemptuous about calling a sentence unfair.
There is absolutely nothing contemptuous about getting angry over a sentence.
Anger is part of human nature just like joy, love and sins. Everyone has a right to hold an opinion on anything from court sentences to religion.
What is wrong is to insult a judge and Scrutator hasn’t done that.
She is merely expressing an opinion on a sentence passed by another human being.
If that is considered a crime, then this world has either gone crazy or it’s just about to come to an end.
lthough Scrutator is angry with the sentences she finds the verdict rich in many aspects.
The judge pointed out that the victim was killed at an initiation school where girls were going through an outdated and diabolical process of genital mutilation.
The judge was shocked that this uncivilised and discredited practice was still prevalent in Lesotho.
Clearly annoyed, the judge asked where the women of Lesotho are when such dehumanising practises continue in this country. Indeed, where are the women when their kind is being abused in the name of dastardly cultural practices like genital mutilation?
Scrutator knows the answer to that question and she will provide it in this column in the coming few weeks.
All she can say, in the meantime, is that the women of this country have allowed themselves to be abused in the name of culture for too long. We have ululated for nonsense for too long. It’s about time we start shouting for the issues that really matter. Ache!