SENTENCING THE ELDERLY – AN ACT OF MERCY OR DISCRIMINATION? S v Phillips (unreported, DCLD), case no CC141/08
Keywords:advanced age, elderly offender, sentencing the elderly, concept of mercy, free pardon, parole
In 2008, the authors’ note on advanced age as a mitigating factor in the South African criminal courts set out the Roman-Dutch history and the South African case law with regard to this issue. Brief reference was made to the position of the elderly offender in the Zimbabwean, English and Australian jurisdictions. The aim of this note is not to repeat what was said before, but to provide a wider perspective on the pertinent issues relating to sentencing the elderly (a contested term, but for present purposes referring to offenders over the age of 60), especially the concept of mercy. It should be reiterated that old age does not exclude criminal liability, but it can serve as one of many mitigating factors during sentencing although it is not a bar to imprisonment. The case of S v Phillips is no exception. The structure of this note is the following: it commences with a discussion of the Phillips judgment and to place it within a general problematic sentencing framework vis-a-vis the elderly. The concept of mercy is then examined in light of recent Commonwealth jurisprudence; whereafter parallels are drawn between the sentencing of a battered wife and the sentencing of a battered geriatric. The note concludes with a brief mention of the post-sentencing options available to an offender in the form of mercy and as well as parole.
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