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A dissenting judgment


Last week we looked at the judgment of Chief Justice Sir Dennis Byron given in two matters, Newton Spence v the Queen, No 20 of 1998 and Peter Hughes v the Queen, which, because of certain similarities, were consolidated. Justice Adrian Saunders concurred with this judgment. This week we will take a look at the judgment of Justice Albert Redhead, the lone dissenting voice in the matter.{{more}}

Before we actually get into the reasoning of the honourable judge, we must be reminded that the Privy Council remitted the two cases to the Court of Appeal for its consideration, because both appeals had raised a similar constitutional issue with regard to sentencing. The justices of appeal were required to consider whether “(a) the mandatory sentence of death imposed on the offenders should be quashed (and if so what sentence including the sentence of death should be imposed or (b) the mandatory sentence of death imposed on the appellant ought to be affirmed.”

Like the Chief Justice, Justice Redhead looked at the issue of construction, since it relates to matters contained in the constitution, namely the fundamental rights and freedom of the individual. In the above named cases, the issue of construction is particularly important to determine whether the mandatory death sentence was contrary to the section that opposes cruel and degrading punishment, or that which speaks of the arbitrary deprivation of a person’s life.

Justice Redhead, like the Chief Justice, looked at the constitution of St Lucia and opined that the fundamental rights and freedom were similar to those in St Vincent and the Grenadines. He felt that they were not substantive rights, but declaratory of rights that the populace should enjoy. He took issue with the submission by learned Queen Counsel Mr Fitzgerald, who opined that section 2(1) of the constitution was essentially a guarantee that a person would not be “arbitrarily deprived of one’s life”.

Justice Redhead insists that there was no guarantee in section 2(1). This section states that a person shall not be deprived of his life intentionally, save in the execution of a sentence of a court, in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been convicted. According to Justice Redhead, a person who commits murder and was found guilty by a jury could not be said to be “arbitrarily deprived of his life”, since there was due process.

Justice Redhead also looked at the savings clause and came to the conclusion that “before any remedial act of construction could be employed by way of modification etc. the law must offend the constitution.”

He felt that the punishment authorized by law would not become illegal, because there was no mitigation. In the case of the individuals in the above named case, he did not think that the lack of mitigation caused the decision to hang convicted offenders to be arbitrary. He pointed to the question of the “variation of moral blameworthiness of persons convicted of murder,” raised by Lord Diplock in Ong Ah Chaun v. Public Prosecutor. (1981) AC 648. Moral blameworthiness did not make the mandatory sentence that is lawful become unlawful.

The essence of Justice Redhead’s judgment is brought out in the following comment: “We must heed Lord Wilberforce’s reminder that a constitution is a legal instrument, the language of which must be respected. If the language given by lawgivers is ignored in favour of general resort to “values”, the result is not interpretation but divination.”

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
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