Home / View Point / Martin Daly / Hanging in disbelief: The truth behind shambolic political posturing over the death penalty

Hanging in disbelief: The truth behind shambolic political posturing over the death penalty

The Privy Council decided in 1993—in the case of Pratt and Morgan—that execution could not lawfully take place more than five years after sentence.  It was recommended that a capital appeal should be heard within twelve months of conviction and the entire domestic appeal process completed within two years.

I remain hanging in disbelief at any suggestion that the death penalty can be resumed simply by returning to case management that makes our murder cases Pratt and Morgan compliant.

Photo: The hangman's noose. (Copyright AYV News)
Photo: The hangman’s noose.
(Copyright AYV News)

On several previous occasions when the resumption of hanging ole talk has appeared, I have written to explain that there are existing hindrances to the implementation of the death penalty in addition to Pratt and Morgan.

On this occasion, I emphasise that two of these hindrances arose out of a decision of the Privy Council given shortly after the execution of Dole Chadee and his associates.

The additional hindrances to the implementation of the death penalty are potential challenges to test the fairness of the Mercy Committee process and the state of conditions in prison. They are contained in Lewis and others v The Attorney General for Jamaica decided on 12 September 2000, referred to below as Lewis.

In addition, condemned persons have continued to petition international human rights bodies in order to obtain a recommendation that their sentences be commuted.

In The Attorney General for Barbados v Joseph and Boyce, the Caribbean Court of Justice (the CCJ), in a decision dated 8 November 2006, agreed with an earlier decision of the Privy Council—although on different grounds—that a condemned person had a right to petition the relevant international human rights bodies and to have the reports of those bodies received and considered by the State prior to execution.

The Privy Council, to whose jurisdiction our country has remained subject, has resisted any change in the Pratt and Morgan timetable to permit execution later than five years after sentence in order to accommodate delays in the determination of appeals to international bodies.

Photo: A Wizard of Id cartoon.
Photo: A Wizard of Id cartoon.

It did so even though the Board acknowledged that it might have been over-optimistic to expect that petitions to international human rights bodies could be dealt with in 18 months, particularly where petitions may be made to two international bodies.

The CCJ has disagreed and said that the time for receiving the decision of the international bodies should not be open-ended.

Access to the international bodies was not an impediment in the case of Dole Chadee. He had had already accessed the international bodies and they had rejected his petitions by the time of his two additional last-ditch appeals to the Privy Council in 1999 heard on 10 May and 29 May 1999, which were unsuccessful and followed by his execution on 4 June 1999.

At that time, challenges to the Mercy Committee process and prison conditions were not impediments. But the Privy Council then changed its mind in the Lewis case and departed from previous decisions that precluded matters concerning the Mercy Committee and prison conditions from being a hindrance to implementation.

It was acknowledged by Purseglove SC—in an interview with the Trinidad Express last week—that “the Privy Council is looking all the time for reasons to stop a country executing.”

Photo: Cartoon on the death penalty.
Photo: Cartoon on the death penalty.

In the first of Chadee’s appeals, when the Privy Council gave its reasons, it expressly stated that it had held in Thomas and Hilaire in March 1999 that prison conditions were not a constitutional ground, without more, for commutation of a death sentence. Eighteen months later, the Board changed direction in the Lewis case.

Regarding the change of direction by the Privy Council in Lewis, in a pungent dissent, Lord Hoffman said: “If the Board feels able to depart from a previous decision simply because its members on a given occasion have a ‘doctrinal disposition to come out differently’, the rule of law itself will be damaged and there will be no stability in the administration of justice in the Caribbean.”

It is also worth repeating the following words of the Privy Council, per Lord Nicholls, which indicate that nothing short of a constitutional amendment can revive the death penalty for implementation:

“If the requisite legislative support for a change in the constitution is forthcoming, a deliberate departure from fundamental human rights may be made, profoundly regrettable although this may be. That is the prerogative of the legislature. If departure from fundamental human rights is desired, that is the way it should be done. The constitution should be amended explicitly.”

In response to the above realities our political leaders have, as is common, ducked confronting the real issues. On the death penalty question there has been little attempt at consultation with the country followed by genuine bi-partisan constitutional reform, if desired.

Photo: The Wizard of Id cartoon.
Photo: The Wizard of Id cartoon.

Political focus remains on periodic electoral battles to get their hands on the national cash register and sometimes to put their friends and allies in line for the spoils.

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation, a board member of The Little Carib Theatre and Folkhouse and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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45 comments

  1. Yet AL Wari not in hand cuffs with damning evidence against him …….. who fooling who here?

  2. Hanging mmeans an I for an I and the consequences of killing some one is that you have assumed the responsibility for that person in the other realm. Are you in a position to handle that responsibility? Do you know what it means?Enough have been killed.We have to find a way to erase the curse.If we remember when this wave of murders began escalating it was around the time that We hung nine people in a day.We have to reverse that ritual that was performed by that former government of ramish and panday to bring back the alignment in this country.Those who do not know must ask their Elders for guidance lest we make the same mistake again.

  3. When it reaches ur home then u all will understand hang them high

  4. Well from what the learned SC has stated it is actually impossible to resume hangings here. Even if appeals were exhausted and by some miracle this includes appeals to international bodies, then the state will surely lose based on “prison conditions”. Also from what was quoted it looks like the Privy Council’s position is that hangings are inhumane and they trying to stamp it out. So why we keep pushing “hanging” instead of finding a cheap but humane way to execute murderers? I say change the constitution to propose another method…what about a real quick poison if the injection too expensive?

  5. Its been about 17yrs since the last people were hung…..not hanging is not working…

  6. No hanging well the murder will just continue if murderer’s are not made to pay for what they do people might even consider eye for eye tooth for tooth only so much a man can tolerate and the jail will be full of murderer’s

  7. One of the problems is that a person sentence to hangs appeals their sentence therby becoming and appleant but is still left on death row and beating the system

  8. Thanks MR Daly, I have long established in my mind that governments job is to keep the citizens in ignorance. Always looking fro a quick fix and plaster for a sore Dole hastily killed. Did it reduce murders, so what is all this rhetoric about? Who fooling who? .Past and president governments with so call ‘big shot ‘lawyers all know the truth. So why the silence? why try to appease blood thirsty people who clamouring for a quick fix? We already have blood running in our streets, we want it on our NATION., at the highest Office? Who trying to foo the people? Has the death penalty or execution reduced murders in the US which has the highest number of incarcerations in the world. What retrograde steps are we looking at. Really!

  9. I get the feeling some people didn’t read the story before commenting.

  10. Let us be realistic and not bury our heads in the sand and expect that our rising crime rate will disappear by the flick of a magic wand by some fairy God mother. What is needed is courage, consistent and undaunted pursuit to face and over come all legal challenges preventing the implementation of the death penalty as was already done. I also believe that we must not loose sight of the dignity, value and sanctity of life which we must ensure is preserved and enshrined in our society’s norms and values because it is evident that we have lost our understanding of the true value of life especially innocent life when it is cruely snuffed out which cannot be quantified replaced or duplicated. Even if you say the death penalty is not a deterrent for the criminal, I still maintain the criminal must know that the scales of justice is a well balanced and a well oiled machinery that exacts not only just and fair rewards but it dispences the punishment to fit the crime. Families and friends of victims, (innocent men women and children) must have a satisfied feeling that justice is rightfully served and it is not for us to decide if the implemention of the death penalty is effective or not but that that we must look forward to the day when the weights are balanced and the repentant and unrepentan criminals are justly required to pay for their evil, beastly, monsterous, diabolical, sinister, cold hearted, reckless and often times well planned wicked deeds.

  11. I think tomorrow I won’t give a f an kill a few ppl n live with WiFi cellphone 3 meals a day at d cost of y’all hmm after I’ve killed your family member . fuk wrong with y’all humane who lost their family tru dem assholes who is caught let dem live 2 kill more ppl waste my tax $ killem I’m stone hearted 2 killers die a horrible death

  12. that makes sense, it is just politics, these politicians eh

  13. Look they all talking crap ok there is another way.. The prime minister whoever it may be just as to write the president and inform him of his intension… If I talking shit then tell me please

  14. Thank Goodness someone is speaking sense! It has not been proven to be a deterrent to any crime! And it is inhumane (for all of you religious people who say ‘you don’t give life, don’t take life”); for heavens sake! It is expensive to do it humanely!

    • Lol I’m not religious y I’m free of oppression an lies there is a god but y’all fight religion an I’ll watch y’all kill y’all selves an b so good with every1

    • not a deterant its a PUNISHMENT.!!!!!!!!

    • I think the idea Burkett is a secondary function a la deterring OTHER criminals… lawd. Is only the rum shop philosophers does come on fb to comment?

    • So when you hang someone for murder it still does not prevent others from committing murders! In my whole goddamn life I have seen people being charged for traffic offences of all sorts – and still they keep breaking our traffic laws. Well – when coming son- we should now start thinking about abolishing any penalty for traffic offences too! and then go the way we are about to go: Stop charging ‘The small man’ for smoking marijuana. How ah talk?

  15. A National Referendum will SUPERSEDE the ” pratt and morgan ” ruling…………….and that IS THE ISSUE that most ” legal minds ” seems to be avoiding……………the issue of National Referendum !!!