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Privy Council imposes death penalty on Trinidadians

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Editor: The recent decision by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to impose the death penalty on two Trinidadian men is the talking point in legal circles in the region, including St Vincent and the Grenadines and the four countries, Guyana, Barbados, Belize and Dominica, which abolished appeals to the London based Court.{{more}}

The Privy Council varied its own decision it handed down 22 years ago in the landmark decision of Pratt and Morgan, the famous Jamaican case, in which the Court ruled that persons convicted of murder and sentenced to death cannot be legally executed if they spent more than five years on death row awaiting execution.

Reports state that from the Pratt and Morgan ruling in 1993, the Privy Council has commuted the death sentence imposed on possibly hundreds of individuals to life in prison, based on that principle. The reason for the new ruling by the PC is that lawyers for the two men, Timothy Hunte and Shazad Khan did not raise the argument of the constitutionality of their sentence and as such, it could not be raised as a fresh issue at the Privy Council.

This means that if the President of the twin island republic does not pardon the two men, they will go to the gallows. The last execution in Trinidad and Tobago took place in July 1999, when Anthony Briggs was hanged for brutally murdering a taxi driver and a month before eight drug lords, including the notorious Dole Chadee, were executed.

The last judicial execution in St Vincent and the Grenadines was in February 1995, when Douglas Hamlet faced the hangman’s noose. His conviction was criticized because the only evidence against him was the testimony of a 14-year-old girl who said she witnessed the killing from a distance of 150 to 200 yards on a rainy day.

The death sentence is no longer mandatory in SVG. In a Court of Appeal decision in 2002, in Hughes & Spence v The Queen, the Court opined that the mandatory death penalty violates the country’s Constitution. Since then the Courts have been handing down fewer death sentences. The jurisprudence now limits application of death penalty to the “worst of the worst offences.”

In the United Kingdom the last judicial hanging took place in 1964 – 51 years ago and the death penalty was abolished in all circumstances in 1998 in the UK and all its dependent territories, including the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos and Cayman Islands.

Guyana passed legislation in October 2010 partially abolishing the mandatory death penalty.

However, the death sentence can be imposed for killing a police officer in execution of his duty or for slaying a judge or other judicial officer.

Oscar Ramjeet

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