Long sentences unconstitutional – Supreme Court

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Roland Routh

Windhoek-The Namibian Supreme Court has expressed itself against the recent spate of sentences in excess of 37 years the Namibian High Court has been passing on serious offenders, calling it “degrading and inhumane”.
This follows an appeal lodged by the four men convicted of the brutal slaying of the Adrian couple near Okahandja in April of 2000.

The four men – Zedekias Gaingob, Erenstein Haufiku, Nicodemus Uri-Khob and Salmon Kheibeb – were sentenced to prison terms of 64 and 67 years and appealed to the Supreme Court against their sentences only.
Gaingob, Haufiku and Kheibeb were each sentenced to a combined 67 years behind bars while Uri-Khob was sentenced to 64 years in total.

Judge Sylvester Mainga who presided over the trial described the four men as “dangerous and deserve to be removed from society for a reasonable time period”.

They lodged appeals against the sentences calling them inappropriately harsh. The sentences of Gaingob and his co-appellants were set aside and replaced with life imprisonment sentences on the two murder convictions, and the sentences for housebreaking with intent to rob and robbery with aggravating circumstances and two counts of theft were ordered to run concurrently with the life sentence on the murder counts.

However, when the case came before the Supreme Court, three judges of the court decided to cast a wider approach and invited arguments on whether fixed long-term sentences are within the scope of Article 8 of the Namibian Constitution which provides for dignity for all.

Chief Justice Peter Shivute, together with Judges of Appeal Dave Smuts, Elton Hoff, Yvonne Mokgoro and Theo Frank agreed that the imposition of fixed long-term sentences that would effectively dash the hopes of such prisoner of ever seeing daylight is against the provisions of Article 8.

The Attorney-General also agreed with the court in its submissions, saying the most severe form of punishment Namibian courts can impose is life sentences, and sentences that surpass the threshold of 25 years before parole can be granted are not in accordance with the right to dignity.

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