[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- worldwide
j_sommer at gmx.net
Thu Jul 8 22:55:25 CDT 2004
death penalty news
July 8, 2004
Jamaica Death Penalty Abolished in Court Ruling
Britains Privy Council has ruled that Jamaicas mandatory death penalty
for murder convictions was unconstitutional.
But the Privy Council, which serves as the highest appeal court for many
former British colonies, found today that automatic death sentences for
convicted murderers did not violate the constitutions of Barbados and Trinidad.
The Council reversed its 2003 ruling that Trinidads mandatory death
penalty for murder convictions was unconstitutional.
But the Privy Council said it would substitute a sentence of life
imprisonment for anyone under the death sentence in Trinidad, arguing it
would be unfair to deprive them of the benefit of last years ruling.
The Privy Council was considering appeals against death sentences by four
convicted murderers: Lambert Watson in Jamaica, Lennox Ricardo Boyce and
Jeffrey Joseph in Barbados, and Charles Matthew in Trinidad.
The Privy Council sat as a panel of nine judges, including eight English
law lords and one Caribbean judge, Edward Zacca.
They ruled that Jamaicas automatic death sentence for convicted murderers
was inconsistent with section 17(1) of that countrys constitution, which
provides that no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or
degrading punishment or other treatment.
The judges found that basic humanity requires that the appellant should be
given an opportunity to show why the sentence of death should not be passed
The ruling left it open to judges in Jamaica to impose the death sentence
or a lesser penalty, depending on the relevant circumstances.
The judges ordered that Watsons death sentence be set aside and that his
case be sent back to the Supreme Court of Jamaica to decide what sentence
should be pronounced. Watson was convicted five years ago of the 1997
murder of his daughter Georgina Watson and her mother Eugenie Samuels.
The Privy Council ruled by a majority of 5-4 that the mandatory death
sentence for convicted murderers did not breach the constitutions of
Barbados or Trinidad.
It found that the constitutions protected individuals from inhuman or
degrading punishment or cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.
But it also found that both documents had provisions protecting laws
already existing at the time the constitutions were written such as those
instituting the automatic death penalty for murderers from being
invalidated by the constitutions.
Supreme Court orders C.A. to review death penalty cases
The Court of Appeals (C.A.) was given another responsibility as the Supreme
Court ruled that the imposition of death penalty, reclusion perpetua or
life imprisonment should be reviewed first by the appellate court before
they render any judgment.
In a decision penned by Associate Justice Jose Vitug, the Court said it
would be wise and compelling to have such cases reviewed first by the C.A.
before it is elevated to them to ensure utmost circumspection in the
imposition of the penalty.
Where life and liberty is at stake, all possible avenues to determine
innocence must be accorded an accused, and no care in the evaluation of the
facts can ever be overdone. A prior determination by the C.A. on,
particularly the factual issues, would minimize the possibility of an error
of judgment, it said in its 27-page decision.
If the C.A. affirms the penalty of death, reclusion perpetua, or life
imprisonment, it could then render judgment imposing the corresponding
penalty as the circumstances warrant it, but refrain from entering
judgment and elevate the entire records of the case to the Supreme Court
for final decision.
The ruling was made in connection with the case of Efren Mateo, who was
charged with 10 counts of rape of his stepdaughter.
Mateo was convicted by the Regional Trial Court of Tarlac and was sentenced
to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua for each count of rape.
Vitug said the deliberations of this case had been marked with an absence
of unanimity on the crucial point of guilt or innocence of Mateo. The
dilemma was that the Court had to first determine the factual matters of
the case when it should be the lower court, particularly the C.A., that
should be reviewing factual issues as mandated by the Constitution.
It ordered that Mateos case and all the pertinent records involving this
case be forwarded to the C.A. for appropriate action.
Before Mateos case, the High Court assumed the direct appellate review of
all criminal cases in which death, reclusion perpetua, or life
imprisonment, was the penalty imposed as provided by Article 47 of the
Revised Penal Code or the Death Penalty Law.
The Court also disclosed that since the reimposition of the death penalty
law in 1993 until June 2004, the trial courts have imposed capital
punishment to 1,493 and out of these number, 907 had been reviewed by the
In the Supreme Court, where these staggering numbers, find their way for
automatic review, the penalty has been affirmed in only 230 cases
comprising 25.36 percent of the total number, it said.
(source: ABS CBN News)
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO:
Death Penalty a Must
86 killers get reprieve
Eight months after the Privy Council found that this country's death
penalty was not a mandatory sentence, the Council reversed itself
yesterday, saying that it was up to Parliament to make such a change.
The judgment, on the appeal of convicted murder Charles Matthew, means that
anyone found guilty of murder after yesterday will automatically be
sentenced to hang. However, the 86 prisoners currently awaiting execution
have been granted a reprieve.
Since they had been given the hope of being re-sentenced following the
first judgment-on the appeal of convicted murderer Balkisoon Roodal-it
would be a "cruel punishment" to now affirm the death sentences, so their
sentences were all commuted to life imprisonment, the Council ruled.
The judgment was greeted with pleasure by Attorney General John Jeremie who
said in a statement to the media that "the (Privy Council found that it)
has no licence to read its own moral values into the Trinidad and Tobago
"I consider the law in relation to the application of the death penalty to
be finally and conclusively determined by (yesterday's) decision," he
But Douglas Mendes SC, who was part of the team that represented Matthew,
said the ruling was "a bit perplexing" and that it was "not something that
anybody should be happy about".
"This decision retards the development of constitutional rights in this
country. The result is that we are stuck with archaic laws," he told the
media yesterday during an interview at his Duke Street, Port of Spain, office.
There was also strong dissent from within the ranks of the Council itself
as four of the unprecedented nine judges who heard the appeal voiced their
disagreement in a minority judgment.
"We consider the decision of the majority to be unsound in law and
productive of grave injustice to a small but important class of people in
Trinidad and Tobago. It is in our opinion clear that the interpretation...
which commends itself to the majority does not ensure the protection of
fundamental human rights and freedoms, degrades the dignity of the human
person and does not respect the rule of law," the minority judgment stated.
"Times have changed. Human rights values set higher standards today. The
common endeavour, to rid the world of man's inhumanity is no longer
acceptable. To condemn every person convicted of murder to death regardless
of the circumstances is a form of inhumane punishment," it continued.
Matthew, 61, of Arima, was sentenced to death in 1999 for killing his
former lover, Louise Gittens, out of jealousy.
His appeal was heard together with three other appeals from Jamaica and
Barbados. All the appeals had challenged the mandatory nature of the
penalty in each country, and a tri-nation team had been assembled to argue
the appeals in March this year.
One Caribbean judge, Justice Edward Zacca of Jamaica, presided over the
appeals alongside the other eight English Law Lords.
The Council also ruled that the mandatory death sentence in Barbados was to
remain, but said the penalty was unconstitutional in Jamaica.
In Roodal's appeal, the Council had first established that the death
penalty was inconsistent with the Constitution, which guarantees citizens
the right to life and protection from inhumane punishment.
The Council then decided that the language of a "savings" clause, which had
stated that the penalty was not to be held to be unconstitutional, was not
strong enough to protect the penalty from being altered. The mandatory
sentence was then quashed, and the Council had ordered that the penalty was
to be imposed on the discretion of trial judges after hearing mitigating
circumstances from a convicted murderer.
In Matthew's appeal, the Council found that the clause did, in fact,
protect the penalty from being affected.
"As the Constitution itself makes express provision for the exercise of the
power of commutation by the President and preserves the mandatory death
penalty, their Lordships do not think that there is some other principle by
which these laws can be invalidated.
"It follows that the decision as to whether to abolish the mandatory death
penalty must be, as the constitution intended it to be, a matter for the
Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago," the majority decision stated.
Mendes said that if the State was concerned about the freedom of its
citizens and the preservation of their rights "then next week we should
expect a Bill to rectify these laws (which are inconsistent with the
Constitution)," he said.
(source: Trinidad & Tobago Express)
Former AG, IRO mum on death penalty
FORMER UNC attorney general Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the Inter-Religious
Organisation (IRO) declined comment on yesterdays Privy Council ruling to
keep the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago. Persad-Bissessar said she
had not seen the Privy Councils judgment and needed to study it thoroughly
before she could comment. IRO president, Rev Cyril Paul, also said he could
not talk about the ruling until he conferred with other IRO heads before he
could do so. However, former IRO president, Independent Senator Bro Noble
Khan, said he believed the death penalty could serve as a strong deterrent
to crime. He expressed concern, however, about how effective the death
penalty might be in light of current problems in TTs judicial process.
Attempts to reach Persad-Bissessars immediate pre- decessor, Ramesh
Lawrence Maharaj, for comment were unsuccessful.
Why death penalty should be abolished?
IN the average public mind, the death penalty is viewed as the most
appropriate penalty for a person convicted of murder. Many people think
that justice is only done when the offender is killed.
A closer look at the death penalty however dismisses this assumption. But
does the average person understand that the death penalty carried out in
the name of a nations entire population involves everyone?
The death penalty is not only a constitutional matter but also a moral and
social one. Citizens should therefore be aware of what the penalty is, how
it is used, how it affects them and how it violates fundamental human rights.
An execution, like physical forms of torture, involves a deliberate assault
on a prisoner. Thus it is a violation of human rights enshrined in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In the past decades many thousands of prisoners have been executed in
scores of countries around the world. Men, women and even children have
been hanged, electrocuted, gassed, poisoned, beheaded or shoot to death in
fulfilment of judicial orders. Many of the executed were convicted of
brutal crimes. Others died for non-violent offences including "economic
corruption" and adultery. Many met their deaths for purely political
reasons or after blatantly unfair trials.
Nobody knows the exact number of innocent victims of execution. Cruel,
arbitrary and irrevocable, the death penalty is imposed disproportionately
on the poor and powerless. It is high time the death penalty is abolished
worldwide. Everywhere experience shows that executions brutalise those
involved in the process. Nowhere has it been shown that the death penalty
has any power to reduce crime or political violence. In many different
countries it is used disproportionately against the poor or against racial
or ethnic minorities. It is often used as a tool of political repression.
The death penalty is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human
being by the state. Indeed, it makes the state the killer. The state can
exercise no greater power over a person than that of deliberately depriving
him /her of life. At the heart of the case of the abolition, therefore is
the question of whether the state has the right to do so.
When the nations of the world came together five decades ago and formed the
United Nations, few reminders were needed of what could happen when the
state believed that there was no limit to what it could do to a human
being. The staggering extent of the state brutality and terror during the
Second World War and the consequences for people throughout the world were
still unfolding in December 1948, when the United Nations adopted the
Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (UDHR).
The UDHR is a pledge among nations to promote the fundamental rights as the
foundation of freedom, justice and peace. The rights it proclaims are
inherent in every human being. They are not privileges that may be granted
or withdrawn by governments for good or bad behaviour respectively.
Fundamental human rights limit what the state may or may not do to a man,
woman or child. The death penalty is an inseparable component of human
The UDHR recognises each persons right to life and categorically states
further: "No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment".
Admittedly, self-defence may be held to justify in some cases the taking of
life by state officials, for example when a country is locked in warfare
(international or civil), or when law enforcement officials must act to
save their own lives or those of others. Even in those situations, the use
of lethal force is surrounded by internationally accepted legal safeguards
to inhibit abuse.
The death penalty however is not an act of self-defence against an
immediate threat to life. It is a premeditated killing of a prisoner who
could be dealt with by equally less harsh means. The cruelty of the death
penalty is evident like torture and execution constitutes an extreme
physical and mental assault on a person already rendered helpless by
If hanging a woman by the arms until she experiences excruciating pain is
rightly condemned as torture, how does one describe hanging her by the neck
until she is dead? If administering 100 volts of electricity to the most
sensitive parts of a mans body invokes disgust, what is the appropriate
reaction to the administering of 2 000 volts to his body in order to kill him?
It is undisputed that the physical pain caused by the action of killing a
human being cannot be quantified, nor can the psychological suffering
caused by foreknowledge of death at the hands of the state whether the
death sentence is carried out six minutes after trial or six weeks after
The methods of execution, like physical forms of torture, involve a
deliberate assault on a prisoner. There are seven principal methods of
execution hanging, shooting, electrocution, lethal injection, gassing,
beheading and stoning.
To just highlight one method, execution by stoning is usually carried out
after the prisoner has been buried to the neck or otherwise restrained.
Death may be caused by damage to the brain, asphyxiation or a combination
of injuries. This type of execution is rampant in Islamic states and is the
highest manifestation of barbarism.
By way of background the death penalty which is upheld by Zimbabwe has a
long and sad history. Our most celebrated hero and heroine Sekuru Kaguvi
and Ambuya Nehanda, respectively, of the first Chimurenga were the first
casualties in 1890 and despite the foregoing, which reminds us of the
bitter past, Zimbabwe still upholds capital punishment; Section 12 of the
Zimbabwean constitution stipulates that "it shall be lawful for a person to
be killed following a death sentence imposed on him/her by Court".
Zimbabwes retention of the death penalty is a sad reflection which casts a
dark shadow on its human rights record.
The death penalty should be abolished for a host of reasons. It is
undesirable because it robs society with proper rehabilitation the
convicted person might become a useful resource and a tool in the
development of society.
It is inhuman and is fraught with retribution which serves no useful
purpose. An execution cannot restore life or lessen the loss to the
Again the death penalty is morally abominable because it has made men
assume the role of the ultimate decider of life and death, which is the
preserve of God alone. From the Bible we are reminded that God had harsh
words for Cain for killing his brother Abel Genesis 4 vs. 9-15
While acknowledging the general feeling of society is that punishment
should be given relative to the crime. capital punishment is wrong because
two wrongs dont make a right. Murdering the murderer is another form of
Apart from the foregoing, the death penalty is irrevocable and can be
inflicted on an innocent person. Despite the most stringent judicial
standards, human error cannot be ruled out, resulting in innocent people
Considerable research in the US has provided no evidence that the death
penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. These
findings are consistent with what is known of the relationship between
crime rates and the presence or absence of the death penalty in other
countries. In some US states the homicide rate has actually increased after
the resumption of execution and despite public execution in countries like
China and Islamic states, crime leading to the death penalty has not declined.
It is undisputed that the death penalty has been used in some instances to
suppress political dissent and to consolidate power, especially after coups
and counter-coups. Members of the opposition, political groups have been
eliminated as a matter of offenders.
John Dzvinamurungu is the vice-chairman of Amnesty International Zimbabwe
(source: Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe)
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