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Hinds v The Queen [1977] AC 195

JAMAICA – CONSTITUTIONAL LAW – GUN COURTS ACT – MANDATORY SENTENCE DETERMINABLE BY EXECUTIVE BODY

Facts

By the Gun Court Act 1974 the Parliament of Jamaica established a new court, the Gun Court, to try "firearms offences." The Act provided for three divisions of the court; the Circuit Court Division and the Resident Magistrate's Division, constituted by a Supreme Court judge and a resident magistrate respectively, and the Full Court Division constituted by three resident magistrates. Section 8 prescribed a mandatory sentence of detention at hard labour during the Governor-General's pleasure for specified offences, determinable only by the Governor-General on the advice of the Review Board. The appellants, who had all incurred the mandatory sentence under s.8, sought to argue that the provisions of the Act under which they were tried and sentence were inconsistent with the Jamaican Constitution.

Issue

The Privy Council were called upon to determine whether those provisions of the Gun Courts Act which purported to transfer sentencing powers to an executive body were compatible with the Jamaican Constitution.

Held

In allowing the appeal in part, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council found the following:

  1. The provisions of the Gun Court Act relating to the Circuit Court Division and the Resident Magistrate's Division which did no more than extend geographically the jurisdiction of a Supreme Court judge in a Circuit Court and a resident magistrate respectively were not contrary to the Constitution and were valid.
  2. That the principle of separation of powers was implicit in the Constitution and Parliament had no power to transfer from the judiciary to the Review Board, the majority of whose members were not qualified to exercise judicial powers, a discretion to determine the severity of punishment.
  3. That the provisions of the Act which were inconsistent with the Constitution were severable from the valid provisions, since the valid provisions would survive without the invalid.

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