Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace has described as “scandalous” the penalty handed down to former registrar of the High Court, Vanessa Tamara Gibson-Marks, who was fined EC$10,500 after pleading guilty to a charge of theft of EC$21,925 and abuse of her authority as Registrar of the High Court.
Magistrate Carla James last Tuesday fined Gibson-Marks EC$4,500 to be paid in one month or three months imprisonment on the theft charge.
On the abuse of authority charge, Gibson-Marks was ordered to pay EC$6,000 in three months or spend six months in jail.
Eustace, speaking on his weekly radio programme on Monday, said the case is “of prime importance”
“And I believe we will have to expand our involvement and discussion where that matter is concerned,” he said.
“I think the whole issue of the registrar has left a very bitter taste in the mouth of Vincentians and in the minds of many Vincentians. People believe we have two systems of justice: one for those who we figure are important, another one for those who we figure are poor and unimportant.
“This decision of the court, even the charges that were laid, to my mind are lacking, and the decision taken, as far as that is concerned, for me is scandalous,” Eustace said.
Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan asked Gibson-Marks to resign in May, and an investigation was later launched into her conduct as Registrar of the High Court.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, told the media last month that Gibson-Marks repaid over $300,000, that had been withdrawn from an account she held in trust at the St. Vincent Cooperative Bank.
Gibson-Marks was not charged in relation to the EC$300,000.
However, Director of Public Prosecutions, Colin Williams discontinued a false certification charge against Gibson-Marks, after she pleaded guilty two weeks ago to the theft and abuse of power charge.
She had pleaded not guilty to all three charges when she initially appeared in court on Aug. 21.
Eustace said he thinks the outcome of the case “sends a very wrong message to the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and it sends a wrong message to the young people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who, for crimes of much lesser importance and gravity, we find many of our youngsters in jail.
“These things, while they don’t beat you over the head like if a hammer is hitting you, they hit you in a much harder way, because your mind is constantly seeking for answers as to why certain things happen.
“And I don’t think the message from this particular issue here is a good one at all. And it will have repercussions further down the road, you know,” Eustace said.
He said people are going to point to decisions like these and question the role of the court.
“It lessens the court in people’s eyes, because they expect justice and they don’t see this as justice, because lesser crimes have taken place with more severe punishment.”
Eustace said the difference in punishment handed down by the court depends on the social status of the accused.
“We must not tolerate this as a nation. We can’t have two sets of rules, or what it seems like to the general public that people are being threated differently because of their status in society. We can’t have that.
“We don’t want our people to grow up thinking that is what we are doing, but that is what it appears to be. And in fact, that is what it is. And while we talk about crime and so on in our society and so forth, and what we need to do about this issue here, people put their hands up in the air. Where are we going?” Eustace said.
Ahead of the sentencing last week, defence attorney Alberton Richelieu submitted to the court documents providing that Gibson-Marks had repaid the EC$21,925.
Gibson-Marks, who was born in St. Lucia, is wife of Vincentian lawyer, former Unity Labour Party senator, Ronald Marks.