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Appeal Court rules on tawah burning case
The Court of Appeal has quashed the sentence of a mother of four from Chaguanas who was jailed for three years in 2012 after admitting to burning her daughter’s hand on a tawah. Kamla Ramcharan, 31, who was out on bail awaiting the outcome of her appeal, walked out of the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain yesterday morning after two appellate judges ruled her prison sentence was too harsh.
Justice Mark Mohammed, who delivered the judgment, said: “One serious potential consequence of a custodial sentence is that no one is readily identifiable to provide care for the children of the family. The court must be mindful of the risk of disintegration of the family.” In his nine-page judgment, Mohammed ruled that although the punishment Ramcharan meted out to her then eight-year-old daughter could be considered “cruel, inhumane and intolerable,” the magistrate who sentenced Ramcharan did not consider the mitigating factors.
“The punishment dispensed was wrong, unacceptable and disproportionate, against the background of contemporary civilised norms. However, we understand the general circumstances in which a parent might feel impelled, at times, to resort to harsher forms of punishment,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed suggested three years’ probation would be a more appropriate sentence and ordered that Ramcharan should submit to the supervision of a probation officer who would monitor her progress and report back to the court for three years. The probation officer will periodically visit Ramcharan’s home at Railway Road, Longdenville, Chaguanas, to monitor her children’s welfare.
Mohammed also ordered Ramcharan to attend fortnightly anger management and parenting counselling sessions hosted by the National Family Services, and warned her that if she failed to comply she would be arrested and resentenced. He noted that the Appeal Court benefited from a probation officer’s report, which was not available to the magistrate at the time of sentencing. The report, he said, showed she worked hard as a construction worker to support her family and was ambitious and devoted to her family.
The State’s case
On June 14, 2012 the principal of Montrose Vedic Primary School contacted Kamla Ramcharan to say her daughter had been caught stealing $5 from a classmate’s bag. Ramcharan reportedly confronted her daughter, who denied taking the money. Later, at home, Ramcharan heated a tawah and held the child’s left hand on it for a couple of minutes, warning her never to steal again.
Police learned of the incident after the child’s father visited the family home and discovered his daughter’s untreated injuries. She was taken to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex and treated for third-degree burns. Ramcharan was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Ramcharan was represented by Vashiest Maharaj, while Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) George Busby represented the State.
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