A Christmas gift

“We forgive him.”

With those words, the victims of Sunday’s near-fatal car crash in Debe handed the driver responsible for demolishing their living-room wall an early Christmas gift.

“I don’t want to see him go to jail,” said Vijanti Seudath. “He was very cooperative with all of us at the scene. He felt sorry for what he did.”

And sorry is definitely what Nigel Jacob should have been. With a blood alcohol count almost quadruple the legal limit, he entered a co-worker’s car, even though he had no driving permit or insurance, and engaged in dangerous driving. Magistrate Lisa Singh-Phillip’s deferral of sentencing of the more serious of Jacob’s offences might strike some as being tantamount to a slap on the wrist. But while the State should send a strong signal to those who drink and drive, the magistrate’s approach is a good example of justice being done.

Assuming it complies with all the requirements of the law — and no prosecutor has raised objection — it is an example of legal provisions being applied in such a way as to cater for the circumstances of each case. In this instance, the rehabilitative function of the law might better be served with a non-custodial sentence.

Jacob has not wasted the court’s time. He pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity. He has also undertaken to help repair the damage he has caused. This might prove more indelible in the long run than a simple jail sentence.

Lives are often at stake in drunk driving cases. Not only the lives of the people who may be killed, injured or otherwise harmed, but also the lives of those behind the wheel. The unaddressed issue in many cases of drunk driving is alcohol abuse. Such abuse stems from complex social factors, including addiction and stress.

A zero tolerance approach has been the traditional way in which drunk driving cases are dealt with. While this is appropriate in most cases, in some instances it may not be effective. For instance, if a driver is repeatedly before the court charged with drunk driving, a stiff sentence may not prevent him from imbibing the next stiff drink. Alcoholism is what drives these cases, not only the driver.

So the magistrate should be praised for considering the interests of all the people involved. Jacob will still pay $5,000 in fines. At the same time, he will be able to assist in repairing the damage he has caused, a process that could lead to healing. That’s the real gift.


"A Christmas gift"

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