Court/Judicial body: The Court of Appeal of Tonga
Citation: Puloka v R  TOCA 2; 03 of 1992
Date: 30 March 1992
Background: The appellant, who had been convicted of two cases of unlawful carnal knowledge (i.e. sexual intercourse) of a girl under the age of 12 years old and sentenced to life imprisonment, appealed his sentence to the Court of Appeal of Tonga. The appellant had pleaded guilty to two charges of unlawful carnal knowledge, was not represented by legal counsel in connection with the charges, and there was no clear evidence presented with respect to the age of the female victim, whether she suffered any physical harm or how the alleged offences had affected her. The appellant was 15 years old at the time of the offences in 1990 and 1991 and 17 years old when he was convicted in 1992.
Issue and resolution: Life imprisonment of children. Whether the conviction of a child to life imprisonment was lawful. The Court reviewed the sentencing and allowed the appeal because it had serious concerns about the previous conviction. The Court quashed the two sentences of life imprisonment. The appellant was sentenced to three years imprisonment on each charge instead, and those three years were suspended by the Court. The appellant was end to an immediate release but could be brought back to the Court to serve the balance of the sentence if he were convicted of an offence for which he could be imprisoned within three years of his release.
Court reasoning: The Court determined that the decision of the sentencing judge was not based on all the appropriate facts, that the sentencing judge did not sufficiently take mitigating factors into account, and that the sentencing judge had taken too stern a view of the appellant’s offences when imposing the maximum sentence. The Court held that there was not sufficient evidence presented in connection with the charges to support a sentence of life imprisonment. Additionally, the Court expressed concern with the fact that the appellant was a 15-year-old boy at the time of the offences, had no previous convictions and little education, and did not have the assistance of legal counsel. Lastly, the Court took into account that previous courts had issued sentences varying from three months to fifteen years for the same crime. Impact: The appellant succeeded in appealing his sentence, and received a reduced sentence. Life imprisonment is still a lawful sentence in Tonga for persons under the age of 18 at the time an offence was committed.
Link to the Judgment: http://www.paclii.org/cgi-bin/sinodisp/to/cases/TOCA/1992/2.html