[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- worldwide
j_sommer at gmx.net
Thu Jul 8 10:50:37 CDT 2004
death penalty news
July 8, 2004
Death penalty ruling pleases rights activists
Ruling will have implications for scores of death row inmates
Human rights activists welcomed yesterday's decision that abolishes
automatic death penalty in Jamaica, and government conceded that the ruling
by the law lords will re-open debate on the future of the death penalty,
for which the Patterson administration has been firmly in favour.
"We're quite pleased with the decision," said Dr Lloyd Barnett, the
constitutional lawyer who is chairman of the Independent Jamaican Council
for Human Rights (ICHR).
"It establishes a principle which is consistent with our concept of human
rights and fairness in the judicial system and the administration of
justice," Barnett said.
In their ruling yesterday, a nine-member panel that included a retired
Jamaican chief justice, Edward Zacca, did not prohibit the death penalty,
but said that where people are convicted of capital murder, they must have
the opportunity to attempt to persuade the court that they should not hang.
".It has to be recognised that section 3 (1A) of the amended (Offences
Against the Person) Act remains valid to the extent that it authorises the
imposition of that (death) sentence," the Privy Council said in its ruling.
"It will therefore be open to the court in these cases either to impose the
death sentence or to impose a lesser punishment, depending on the view it
takes of the crime which the defendant committed and all the relevant
"The judge may be asked to hear submissions, and if appropriate, evidence
about these matters before he takes his decision as to what sentence should
The decision arose from an appeal filed by Lambert Watson who was convicted
for the 1997 murder in Hanover of his common-law wife, Eugenie Samuels, and
their daughter, Georgina.
But the ruling will have implications for scores of death row inmates who
will now likely have an opportunity to now apply to the court for a review
of their sentences.
There, however, was no immediate signal from the government on how it would
proceed on this issue, although the attorney-general's department raised
the prospect of legislative changes.
"The attorney-general (A J Nicholson) has indicated that the government of
Jamaica naturally accepts that the Privy Council decision has binding
force, and that as a result the government will be giving serious
consideration to the question of whether the law should be amended..." the
attorney-general's office said in a statement.
Ironically, it was Jamaica's move a dozen years ago to differentiate
between capital and non-capital murder that opened the door for the Privy
Council to rule that the automatic death penalty for certain categories of
murder was constitutional, while, in related cases from Barbados and
Trinidad & Tobago held it to be legal.
In fact, the apparent anomaly triggered minority rulings in the cases by
three of the judges - Lord Nicholas of Birkenhead, Lord Bingham of Cornhill
and Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe.
While they agreed with the majority that automatic death penalty was cruel
and inhumane and ultra vires of the constitution, in the case of Jamaica,
they arrived at that position by a different route.
The majority held that the 1992 amendment to establish capital and
non-capital murder had removed from it the 'saving' section provided by
section 26(8) of the constitution that laws which were in force before
Jamaica's independence remained in place. The automatic death penalty was
Government lawyers had argued that the amendment had not essentially
changed the law for it did not create a new offence.
The majority disagreed saying that "the law which was in force immediately
before the appointed day (August 6, 1962) was no longer the law. The
appellant was sentenced to death under the law which was set out in the
amendment contained in the 1992 Act".
The dissenters argued that the more relevant application should have been
Section 4 (1) of the Jamaican (Constitution) Order in Council which
required that at the time of independence existing laws "be construed with
such adaptations and modifications as may be necessary to bring them in
conformity with the constitution".
"One strange, and to our mind regrettable, implication of the majority
decision in Matthew, Boyce and Joseph (the cases from Barbados and Trinidad
& Tobago) and the present appeal is that Jamaica could have succeeded in
maintaining an objectionable nineteenth century law if it had not attempted
to mitigate its harshness," the dissenters said.
Yesterday's ruling was the latest in a series of rulings by the Privy
Council which Caribbean governments have viewed to be ideological attacks
on the death penalty, starting with the mid-1990s Pratt and Morgan ruling
from Jamaica when the UK-based judges held that an inmate could not be held
on death row for more than five years.
They have more recently angered governments with other cases, such as those
two years ago when they upheld the claim by Patrick Reyes from Belize and
Peter Hughes and Newton Spence, from St Lucia and St Vincent, respectively,
that their automatic death sentences were unconstitutional. Belize has the
equivalent to capital and non-capital murders but not the Eastern Caribbean
In another ruling, the Privy Council held that people sentenced to death
and who apply for mercy must be allowed to argue their cases and have
access to the information presented about them, prompting the Jamaican
government to promise constitutional amendment to prevent what the
government said would amount to another trial.
Barbados has amended its constitution to limit such manoeuvrings by death
row inmates, and received backhanded applause for its approach from
yesterday's dissenters, who felt that the majority had provided Bridgetown
with a loop-hole.
"If departure from fundamental human rights is desired, that is the way it
should be done," they said. "The constitution should be amended explicitly.
Departure from fundamental rights entrenched in the constitution should not
be carried through by misapplication of transitional saving clauses."
(source: Jamaica Observer)
Iraq wants limited death penalty
Iraq is studying how to reinstate the death penalty for a limited period,
but the decision is not linked to the trial of former leader Saddam
Hussein, Iraqs interim prime minister said in comments published on
We want a restricted death penalty, for a limited time, until there are
elections and Iraqis can decide for themselves, Iyad Allawi told Spanish
daily El Pais in an interview. He said the interim government had not yet
made a decision on how the death penalty, suspended during the US-led
occupation, should be implemented.
When Saddam was in power, people were condemned to death just for speaking
ill of him. We want to abolish those extremes and limit capital punishment
to very concrete cases and for a limited time. We are thinking, for
example, about (what to do) in the case of murder, he told the newspaper.
He said the decision was unrelated to the trial of Saddam accused of war
crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide but was meant to deal with
indiscriminate murdering by terrorists.
The interim government on Wednesday signed into effect a new security law
giving itself wider powers to combat militants.
(source: Reuters / Daily Times, Pakistan)
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