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CCJ not a ‘hanging court’, says president

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President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders has rejected the idea that the court is a ‘hanging court’, noting “nobody in that court is anxious to hang anybody.”

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, Saunders, who arrived in St Vincent and the Grenadines for a four-day visit on Tuesday, dismissed the perception.

The judge revealed that the CCJ had been prejudged by an international media outlet, as being a ‘hanging court’ before their first decision related to the issue, in the case Boyce v Joseph, “The first matter that we had, that had some relationship with the death penalty.”

“The truth of the matter is that the decision did not support that view, that in that decision we held that it was not lawful for the state of Barbados to hang someone, when, they had pending before the Inter American Commission of Human Rights, a petition that was challenging the imposition of that sentence on them,” he explained.

Therefore, he rejects this informal title previously given to the CCJ, and states, “The court would look at the cases that come before it, and would determine in each case, what, in the view of the members of the court, what is consistent with the constitution of the country whose appeal we are determining, but nobody in that court is anxious to hang anybody.”

The President was asked about the more recent ruling of the CCJ involving the subject of the death penalty, where they had ruled in June this year, in Barbadian cases Jabari Sensimania Nervais v The Queen and Dwayne Omar Severin v The Queen, that the mandatory death penalty should be struck out.

Saunders commented on whether this recent development could be interpreted as the court taking a stance on the issue.

“Now the case did not rule out the death penalty, what it ruled out was the mandatory death penalty. So, in Barbados there was a death penalty sentence for every murder that was committed,” he explained.
He stated, “the point is that judges should be allowed some discretion to determine, in any particular case, whether the nature of the case, the circumstances of the offence, the circumstances that relate to a particular offender, warrant the imposition of the death penalty or not. The case did not rule out the death penalty as such.”

He stated that, although it has not yet arisen, there may come a day when the court must decide whether or not the imposition of the death penalty itself is unconstitutional, or unlawful. While saying that he would not want to prejudge the issue, he commented on the complicated nature of it.

“The death penalty is both a legal issue, as well as, for some, a philosophical issue… a moral issue. There are some people who have very strong views against the death penalty, because they take the view that, how can you teach somebody not to kill, by killing them? How can you teach society that persons must not kill, by killing persons? There are some persons who take the view that it is a deterrent, and it is a good deterrent,” Saunders stated.

As for the CCJ, the Justice says, “We try to deal with a legal perspective, try to look at the Constitution, the fundamental rights that are laid out in the Constitution, try to interpret the words that are there. We look at how those words are interpreted in other countries, and by other courts, and then we come to a decision.”

Saunders declined to comment more definitively on the matter, ending, “I wouldn’t want to say now how I would address that issue if it came before us, but certainly, a death penalty which is indiscriminate, we have already decided, and I can say with clarity, that that is simply unconstitutional.”

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