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Dear Editor: Pratt and Morgan rubbish? Let’s recognise legal limits of landmark ruling

“This does not mean that hanging cannot take place; it merely means that the entire judicial process needs to take place and be completed within five years. So, it is rather disingenuous of Mr Ragoo to blame the ‘foreign architects’ (Privy Council judges) for the incompetence demonstrated by successive governments. It is incumbent upon the government to put into place a working system to speed up and streamline the judicial process. Therefore, the Attorney General is correct: the only mechanism the State could be involved in is to make sure the pace of the appellate process is quickened.

“The remaining questions in the article are meaningless as they are mere rhetoric without substance.”

The following Letter to the Editor, which is a response to a Trinidad Express letter critical of the ‘outrageous Pratt and Morgan decree,’ was submitted to Wired868 by Mohan Ramcharan of Birmingham, England.

Photo: Convicted killer Dole Chadee, who headed a gang of nine criminals executed in 1999 for a series of murders in 1994, one year after the Privy Council’s landmark 1993 Pratt and Morgan decision. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

In response to a letter by Lloyd Ragoo published in yesterday’s Trinidad Express (Tuesday 20 February), I will attempt to answer some of the questions he raised.

“What are the rudiments of a Pratt and Morgan ruling?” he asked. And “What is the logic behind this no hanging after five years ruling?”

Well, Lloyd, in its wisdom and following the law, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (PC) ruled that keeping a man on Death Row with a death sentence hanging over his head—and repeatedly reading out that final notice to him—amounted to cruel and unusual punishment (CUP). Since the Constitution forbids CUP, which is also forbidden under the most fundamental human rights and embedded in treaties to which Trinidad and Tobago has signed up, that means that it is now the law of the land that no hanging can take place after five years on Death Row.

This does not mean that hanging cannot take place; it merely means that the entire judicial process needs to take place and be completed within five years. So, it is rather disingenuous of Mr Ragoo to blame the “foreign architects” (Privy Council judges) for the incompetence demonstrated by successive governments. It is incumbent upon the government to put into place a working system to speed up and streamline the judicial process. Therefore, the Attorney General is correct: the only mechanism the State could be involved in is to make sure the pace of the appellate process is quickened.

The remaining questions in the article are meaningless as they are mere rhetoric without substance. What would be more meaningful to ask is when the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) will raise the level of performance to international standards, when the detection rate for murders will rise above 6% and when the police will gather sufficient irrefutable evidence and process it to permit convictions above 1% (of the detection rate, mind you!).

Photo: Chief Justice Ivor Archie (left) inspects a guard of honour at the opening of the 2009/2010 Law Term. The speeding up of the judicial process has been a recurrent theme in the CJ’s addresses on these occasions.
(Copyright News.gov.tt)

What would be more meaningful to ask is when will legislation be passed to speed up the judicial process so that final appeal has a chance of being completed before the five-year limit.

What would serve Mr Ragoo well would be to read the Pratt and Morgan judgement, analyse what the learned judges said, look for the reasons behind what their lordships have said and learn to separate the chaff (rhetoric and emotive diatribes) from the wheat (substance).

I suspect that this will never happen; Far too often, we find it easier to jump on the bandwagon and recycle meaningless rubbish.

About Mohan Ramcharan

Mohan Ramcharan is a law student and a student of human nature and culture, who prefers cool logic to emotional ranting. A Trinidadian living in England, he observes the world through two lenses—and strives to share both views in his writing.

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