Govt, Opposition move to resume hangings
By LARA PICKFORD-GORDON Saturday, August 24 2013
WHEN the Government and Opposition teams meet next week they will discuss various proposals including options which would enable hangings to be carried out in TT.
One option is restricting further appeals by prisoners under sentence of death up to the local Court of Appeal, after they have appealed up to the Privy Council.
Concerns about crime, particularly the recent murder of six people, among them three teenagers, during a 20-hour period in East Port-of-Spain on August 13 and 14 have captured national attention. The Government led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and his team met at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair, on Thursday to come up with measures to deal with the increase in crime.
In an interview yesterday, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan was questioned about the proposal to resume hangings, since the death penalty has not been abolished in TT. The last time the death sentence was carried out was on September 3, 1996, when Dole Chadee and eight others were hung. Ramlogan acknowledged that the long appeal process impacted on the implementation of the death sentence.
“By the time the High Court and Court of Appeal and Privy Council decide, you are already into the twilight zone of the fifth year. The law has developed to the point where the State must await their petition to the Mercy Committee and Inter American Court of Human Rights. This normally takes the process across the five-year line,” he said.
In 1993 in the case of Pratt and Morgan v The Attorney General of Jamaica, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled that a delay of five years or more in carrying out the death sentence would constitute “cruel and inhumane treatment” contrary to the Constitution of Jamaica. This legal precedent has affected hangings in other Caribbean territories as well.
Ramlogan observed that Jamaica has recently moved to nullify the “five-year rule” by amending its Constitution. In the case of TT, he said, “What is required is a simple amendment to the Constitution which will allow the death penalty to be implemented once the prisoner has exhausted his appeal, regardless of how long the process takes.”
Such a change, he explained, took into consideration that prisoners recognised that it was in their best interest to delay their matters for as long as possible “in the interest of self- preservation”.
Another alternative could be imposing a “time frame” in local law within which persons must obtain judgments from international bodies.
Ramlogan said “this would cater for the present problem of those bodies dragging on the hearing (to the extent that the) five-year threshold is crossed.”
A third alternative is restricting appeals in death sentence matters to the Court of Appeal.
He said, “So you can challenge your conviction and sentence of death all the way to the Privy Council but any subsequent challenge to the implementation of the sentence of death will be restricted to local courts.”
The AG said there were many ideas forthcoming on the contentious and sensitive issue of the death penalty and the Government and Opposition would meet to consider the various proposals and decide on the most prudent course in the public’s interest.
Questioned about the suggestion for a new criminal law for home invasion, Ramlogan said while breaking and entering was an offence, in some countries specific provision was made for home invasion.
“We intend to examine these options,” Ramlogan said. He was cautiously optimistic and hopeful about the discussions with the Opposition.