The penalty of 50-years without parole for stealing or misappropriating more than K1 million (US$360,000) is now in effect, officials in the law and justice sector have warned.
The law came into effect last September but some law enforcement agencies were not aware of the amendments to the Criminal Code, which were passed by the National Parliament in May 2013 and certified for months later.
The Government’s second legislative counsel, Johnny Bogembari, told the Post-Courier in an interview that the penalty was now law and all law enforcement agencies should be made aware and apply where necessary.
The penalty was part of a number of controversial amendments pushed through by the Government in response to a public outcry against gender violence, following the barbaric burning of Western Highlands woman Laniata Kepari in Mount Hagen in February last year. A senior law enforcement officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said certain offences needed harsher penalties and law enforcement agencies needed to enforce them.
“Parliament is Supreme and makes laws. Parliament has considered that certain offences need harsher penalties hence passed or amended these laws including fraud and stealing offences under the Criminal Code. It’s good to have the maximum penalties for prevalent offences than not having them at all. Now it’s up to the law enforcement agencies to enforce the laws. The challenge I see though is the fear of having ‘blind justice’ – sending the wrong person to jail, that is the danger,” he said.
“When we see offenders effectively prosecuted and jailed under the previous law, though penalties were light, we could achieve the same result. It would send a very strong message: deterrence. That would mean that we don’t have to exhaust the highest penalties.”
Some other features of the new amendments include a new section on aggravated rape, which now attracts the death penalty, life imprisonment for persons if the property misappropriated exceeds K10 million and 50-years imprisonment without parole for misappropriation.
The amendments according to the law enforcement officer have the potential to deprive a person of his or her life and liberty and raises questions on whether true justice can be delivered when the bench is chaired by a single judge.