Statutory provision of manslaughter and its punishment;
The Rwandan Penal code under its Article 111 provides for manslaughter and its punishment. It is enshrined therein that any person who kills another as a result of clumsiness, carelessness, inattention, negligence, failure to observe rules or any other lack of precaution and foresight but without intent to kill him/her, commits an offence.
Furthermore, it stipulates that a person convicted of manslaughter is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than six (6) months and not more than two (2) years and a fine of not less than five hundred thousand Rwandan francs (FRW 500,000) and not more than two million Rwandan francs ( FRW 2,000,000) or only one of these penalties.
Manslaughter is an unlawful killing that doesn’t involve malice aforethought. Malice aforethought means the intent to seriously harm or kill or extreme, reckless disregard for life. The absence of malice aforethought means that manslaughter involves less moral blame than either first or second degree murder.
Manslaughter is often pronounced by courts when the prosecution has failed to prove that a suspect committed the crime of murder beyond reasonable doubt, or there isn’t enough evidence provided to warrant the sentence of murder for the suspect or it is clear and evident that the suspect committed the murder with no intention. This is the reason why the punishment of manslaughter is usually slightly lower than that of murder.
Explanation of how disproportionate the punishment for manslaughter is;
In my opinion, I submit that the punishment prescribed for the offence of manslaughter is very small considering the gravity of the offence committed. It is important to note that if a person is liable for manslaughter, it basically means that there is a deceased person involved and ruling that a person who has killed another should be imprisoned for two years maximum and pay two million Rwandan Francs maximum or one of these punishments regardless of whether he or she didn’t intend it, is unfair and it definitely looks like an injustice to the family of the deceased person.
To be honest, there is no amount of compensation that can match the deceased person in the eyes of his or her family, nevertheless, at least the person responsible should serve many years in prison and not be able to do what he or she did to another family which in turn serves as justice to the family of the deceased person.
One of the key factors that a criminal court considers while sentencing a criminal is the issue of deterrence. Deterrence is the use of punishment as a threat which is considered as a means to prevent people from offending or to reduce the probability or level of offending. It is aimed at preventing offenders from committing further crimes and also the punishment is meant to instill fear which could prevent others from committing similar crimes. In relation of the aforementioned paragraph and the punishment prescribed for manslaughter, I strongly submit that the legislators did not consider deterrence while drafting Article 111 of the penal code considering the punishment for manslaughter is very small compared to the gravity of the offence. Therefore, so as to promote deterrence, this punishment should be increased.
I am also of the view that the punishment for manslaughter should be at least half the punishment of murder. This is because majority of the suspects who actually committed murder intentionally, are let off the hook by smart lawyers representing them or probably the prosecution fails to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they committed the offence of murder intentionally.
That being said, these criminals who are luckily convicted of manslaughter instead of murder should at least serve many years in jail. The good part of this would be that the family of the deceased gets to feel that justice was served for their departed loved one. In addition, these criminals who are luckily convicted of manslaughter instead of murder serve the two years sentence and in a short time get back to society and could easily commit other murders.
Therefore, I recommend that the punishment for manslaughter be made half the sentence for murder. The sentence for murder under the penal code is life imprisonment meaning that the sentence for manslaughter should be ten to fifteen years imprisonment and payment of a fine of not less than two million Rwandan francs (FRW 2,000,000) and not more than five million Rwandan Francs (FRW 5,000,000) or one of these penalties.
In light of the above, with such punishment, criminals will understand that committing murder is a no go area and its punishment is harsh regardless of whether court sentences one for manslaughter. If the punishment for manslaughter is increased as I have recommended, I have no doubt that the number of murders will reduce drastically.
Let us know your views and comments if any;
Managing Partner (Stabit Advocates Rwanda)