Death warrants rash - Caribbean Court of Justice Ruling
Court's first ruling in a capital punishment matter
full panel of the Port-of-Spain based Court, comprising its President
Justice Michael de la Bastide and Justices Rolston Nelson, Duke
Pollard, Adrian Saunders, Desiree Bernard, Jacob Wit and David Hayton,
ruled by majority that the two murder convicts had a “legitimate
expectation” that they would be able to continue their appeal process
before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The court also held that to deny the two, Jeffrey Joseph and Lennox Ricardo Boyce, the chance to appeal their death sentences was tantamount to denying them “the protection of the law.”
The judgment delivered yesterday was a historic one, being the first ruling of the Caribbean court in a capital punishment matter.
It was described by Administra-tive Officer of the Court, Christie-Anne Morris-Alleyne as being “very important for all Caribbean people.”
The judgment delivered yesterday is the high-point of a controversial saga which began with the murder of Barbadian Marquelle Hippolyte, 22, on April 10, 1999. Four men were charged with the murder and were offered a deal by Barbadians prosecution authorities that would allow them to plead guilty to manslaughter. Two of the four men — Joseph and Boyce — did not accept this deal and fought the charges against them. They were found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang.
While they were challenging this decision all the way up to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (PC), they were served a first set of death warrants which were later stayed by the Barbados High Court. However, on July 7, 2004, the PC upheld the mandatory death penalty in Barbados and dismissed their appeals.
The two men began the process of appealing to the IACHR, but the Barbados Mercy Committee, which is a quasi-judicial
These warrants were then in turn challenged all the way to the Barbados Court of Appeal.
The two convicts won their appeal there, but the Barbadian Attorney General appealed this decision, bringing it to the Caribbean Court of Justice in Port-of-Spain, which is now has appellate jurisdiction for Barbados.
Yesterday, the CCJ ruled that despite certain provisions in the Barbados Constitution, the Court had the jurisdiction to review decisions of the Mercy Committee to determine whether the prerogative of mercy was exercised with procedural propriety.
When the court heard arguments at a two-day hearing in June earlier this year, counsel for the Barbados Attorney General, Roger Forde QC had argued that there was no provision in the Barbados Constitution that allowed Barbadian citizens to petition international bodies such as the IACHR with regards to the execution of persons convicted of murder.
He had also argued that a “legitimate expectation” to do so did not translate into a “legitimate right.”
But the court disagreed holding that even “a condemned man has a right to the protection of the law.”
The effect of the court’s conclusion is that once persons are convicted of a capital offence and are still in the process of appealing their sentences before international bodies, they cannot be executed.
The indirect implication is that if valid international appeals manage to outlast the specific and strict time-frame under the common law within which a person can be executed after the date of their first conviction, then they may circumvent capital punishment.
The court was at pains, however, to emphasise that “the death penalty is a constitutionally sanctioned punishment for murder” which “falls within internationally accepted conduct on the part of civilised States” and that “courts have an obligation to respect constitutions and laws that retain capital punishment.”
Nonetheless, it issued the strong warning that “the death penalty, however, should not be carried out without scrupulous care being taken to ensure that there is procedural propriety and that in the process the fundamental human rights are not violated. Death is a punishment which is irrevocable.”