[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jul 8 10:50:41 CDT 2004
UK limits Jamaica death sentence
The mandatory death penalty for murder in Jamaica was abolished yesterday,
winning a reprieve for more than 60 prisoners on death row, in a historic
judgment from 9 judges sitting in London.
But the penalty will remain in force in Trinidad and Barbados after the
same judges, by a majority of 5 to 4, ruled that the clear wording of
those countries' constitutions barred them from interfering to strike it
The appeals to the Privy Council on behalf of 4 death row inmates were
considered so important that the court - the final court of appeal for the
Caribbean and some other former British colonies, but made up mainly of UK
law lords - sat as a panel of 9 judges for the 1st time. It normally sits
in panels of 5.
Most countries in the Caribbean have popular majorities which support the
mandatory death penalty as a deterrent to violent crime. The possibility
of its abolition by a bench composed overwhelmingly of white judges
thousands of miles away is a highly sensitive issue.
The 9-judge panel was headed by Lord Bingham, senior law lord. He was
joined by 7 other law lords - Lords Steyn, Rodger, Hope, Hoffmann,
Nicholls, Walker and Scott - and a senior judge from Jamaica, Edward
The appeal was on behalf of 4 death row prisoners, Charles Matthews, from
Trinidad, Lennox Boyce and Jeffrey Joseph from Barbados, and Jamaican
Lambert Watson. 3 leading English QCs, Nicholas Blake, Edward Fitzgerald
and Keir Starmer, argued their cases free of charge.
The 4 men argued that there were mitigating factors in their cases which
could not be taken into account by judges, who had no choice but to impose
the death penalty once they were convicted of murder.
Matthews was sentenced to death in 1999 for killing his former lover out
of jealousy. The same year, Watson received the death sentence for
stabbing to death his 9-month-old daughter and her mother. Boyce and
Joseph were jointly convicted in 2002 of the murder of Marquelle
The men's lawyers argued that the automatic death penalty, which precludes
the possibility of individual mitigation, amounts to inhuman and degrading
treatment, and breaches the Caribbean countries' constitutions and their
The majority of 5 judges, led by Lord Hoffmann, held that they were
constrained by the wording of the constitutions of Trinidad and Barbados,
which differ from the Jamaican constitution. The minority of 4, led by
Lord Bingham, would have abolished the automatic death penalty.
The judgment overturns a Privy Council ruling in November 2003 that the
automatic death penalty is unconstitutional in Trinidad.
But the judges yesterday reprieved more than 100 prisoners now on death
row in Trinidad, ruling it would be unfair to deprive them of the benefit
of the earlier ruling.
In countries where the mandatory death penalty has been struck down,
courts are still free to impose it but only for the most serious cases. It
has already gone in the eastern Caribbean, following a ruling in 2001 by
the Eastern Caribbean court of appeal, that the automatic imposition of
the death penalty without any judicial discretion amounts to cruel and
In 2002, the Privy Council upheld that judgment in 3 cases from St Lucia,
Belize and St Kitts, and sent the prisoners concerned back to courts in
their own countries for resentencing.
(source: The Guardian)
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