High Court judge Justice Brian Cottle has asked the prosecution and a defence counsel to help to highlight the impact of the absence of psychiatric services in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Justice Cottle made the point on Sept. 22 as he sentenced for manslaughter, Kesean Caine, a mentally ill man who is to be sentenced today (Friday) on a 2018 attempted murder charge.
At the sentencing hearing last week, the judge could not establish a starting point for Caine’s sentence.
The evaluation that had been done on him did not indicate the degree of responsibility that Caine retained for his actions when he stabbed Brenda Layne, a 48-year-old security guard, in an unprovoked attack, resulting in her death.
The judge ordered that Caine be detained at the court’s pleasure and be treated for his mental condition.
At the end of the three years, Caine is to be brought back to court so that the court could determine if he is fit for release.
After sentencing Caine, Justice Cottle said it is all well and good to say, as he had done, that facilities in the country for the treatment of some offenders are limited.
“But we have to, each of us, utilise whatever influence we can bring to bear to urge upon the authorities that something better has to be done,” the judge said.
Justice Cottle said that Jomo Thomas who along with Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell represents Caine, has “a pulpit that can perhaps assist in making it clear to the authorities that the present circumstances are simply not tenable”.
Thomas is a social commentator and has two radio programmes and a newspaper column that is published in a number of media outlets and uses his platforms to address a wide range of issues, including matters related to the criminal justice system.
“We can’t continue in this way, we have to do better, especially for the least fortunate of our citizens,” Justice Cottle said.
Meanwhile, Tamika Da Silva-Mc Kenzie, an assistant director of public prosecutions who represented the Crown in the matter, told the court that over the summer break the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) made “significant strides to help to resolve matters”.
She said her office visited the prisons to see the accommodation and what is really there not just for the regular prisoner and also for those who have mental issues.
“And much is left to be desired,” she said, adding that thereafter, her office met with the ministries of National Security and Health.
Da Silva-Mc Kenzie that based on these meetings, her office initiated conversations to have some things addressed at least in the upcoming advance proposals.
“It is only our hope that they would actually bear fruit,” she said.
“From our end, it is sad that the state machinery is so limited in that in as much as we had since last year taken active steps knowing that there was no psychiatrist on island, we made effort to have someone come in to help to get the persons who are in custody who had been charged with murder access and better to be able to get the trials expedited,” the assistant DPP said.
She said that shortly thereafter, while her office was in the process, it learnt that the Ministry of Health was engaging someone, so her officer abandoned its efforts.
“Even up to July we used the money that we had intended to have put to that purpose,” Da Silva-Mc Kenzie said, adding that while the sum might not have helped 10 mentally ill prisoners, “at least three would have been helped with the sums that we had.
“We put it to other use and thereafter within about a month we heard that we no longer have a psychiatrist. Ao it is sad that we seem to be spinning in mud but we must continue to make efforts from our end,” Da Silva-Mc Kenzie.
Justice Cottle said: “Yes, like Sisyphus we must not give up.”
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been without a psychiatrist for years.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Health was able to attract a psychiatrist from India.
On the first day of the assizes, which opened in September, Justice Cottle said:
“I got the impression that the volume and type of work she was being asked to do fell outside of what she was expecting and I am not sure she felt that she was able to cope. So, she took the position that she would no longer hold the position to be the person tasked with providing psychiatric evaluations for persons charged with criminal offences.”.
However, one source familiar with the situation told iWitness News that the psychiatrist said: “I am a psychiatrist. I know crazy when I see it. This amount of work is crazy. I am not doing it.”