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Death Penalty Information

Monday, November 06, 2006

Trinidad: no hangings..........
Hangman's hands are tied...

AS at October 25, there were 84 persons on death row in Trinidad and
Tobago, 78 of them male and 6 female. However, only 15 of them can be
considered as being eligible now for facing the death penalty, because
they were all convicted after July 7, 2004. This is the date on which the
Privy Council had ruled in a judgment that the death penalty was mandatory
and not discretionary, contrary to a decision it had reached in an earlier
matter, on November 20, 2003. This case is known as Roodal vs the State,
Privy Council 18 of 2003.
The Privy Council judgment of July 2004, came as it considered the
Trinidad and Tobago case of Charles Mathews vs the State.
Shocked and flabbergasted by the decision eight months earlier, the
governments of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Jamaica got together and
mounted a response, which had the effect of having the Privy Council
overrule itself, a development which AG John Jeremie declared last week as
"unprecedented, in that the Privy Council by practice and tradition had
rarely overruled itself and never before in an appeal so soon after a
substantive decision". Mr Jeremie pointed out in a statement on the matter
that the Privy Council had again met "for the 1st time in an appeal from
the Caribbean", with nine members in the review of the Roodal decision, as
it deliberated on the Mathews case "the largest panel to sit in well over
half a century".
But while the mandatory nature of the death penalty was restored, the
earlier ruling had the effect of creating an expectation among those
persons on death row at the time that they were not necessarily going to
be executed, and they had the right to apply for such reliefs.
Because, as the Attorney General reiterates in his statement, Trinidad and
Tobago is committed to the rule of law, all those persons who were on
Death Row up to July 7, 2004, have the right to seek judicial review of
their matters, on the basis of the Privy Council's ruling in November,
Outside of this, however, another ruling of the Privy Council has eaten
into the ability of the State to carry out the death penalty, this being
the decision in the Jamaican case of Pratt and Morgan. By virtue of this
judgment, delivered on November 2, 1993, no person who is convicted of
murder but who is not executed after five years can be put to death.
Dozens of convicted persons have had their sentences commuted as a result.
They have formed what Mr Jeremie called "a special class of inmate on
death row."
While the Government repudiated and denounced the Inter-American
Convention on Human Rights on May 26, 1999, thereby blocking appeals to
this body after this date, the Attorney General's statement disclosed that
this body continued to accept petitions after this date, where it
concluded that allegations of human rights violations against convicted
prisoners before this date were valid.
All of this has had the effect of making a mess of the State's attempt to
carry out the death penalty.
In opposition at the time, the PNM had howled bloody murder at the
Government for opting out of the protocols from the Inter-American court,
and vowed to reverse this decision. Last week's statement made no mention
as to whether in fact this has been done.
What it did say, as a tacit complaint, was that "the time-consuming nature
of applications before ... international bodies, coupled with the
inordinate and somewhat obvious delays of these bodies literally
guaranteed that Trinidad and Tobago could not carry out a sentence of
death on any person so sentenced."
So that 7 years after the country opted out of the optional protocols at
the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, despite the spectacular hangings
of ten persons in 1999, and approaching 5 years after the PNM returned to
power, the State's hands remain virtually tied.
Of the 15 persons on Death Row who have no presumption about not being
spared the noose, all have appeals in progress. And Mr Jeremie provides a
further litany about what is keeping them.
Notes of evidence from the high court are not yet ready and as such the
Record of Appeal cannot be settled for the hearing of the appeal; the
judge's notes from the trial are not yet ready; the appeal has not yet
been placed on the Court of Appeal list and given a date of hearing; the
defence lawyer for the appellant has not settled the Record of Appeal; the
defence lawyer is not yet ready; the appellant has not yet retained an
attorney to argue his/her appeal.
- Next week: A rare and arbitrary fate - Conviction for Murder, the
Mandatory Death Penalty and the Reality of Homicide in Trinidad and
Tobago. A Study by Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal
(source: Trinidad News & Express)
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