[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jul 19 11:04:15 CDT 2004
Allen & Overy team triumphs in Jamaican death row case
A man facing Jamaica's mandatory death penalty has seen his sentence
overturned as a result of pro bono work by Allen & Overy (A&O).
Lambert Watson was found guilty of the murder of his girlfriend and baby
daughter in 1999 and had already served 5 years on death row. But in a
landmark ruling that could change the face of Jamaican law, the Privy
Council in London ruled the sentence an inhuman punishment, which had
subjected Watson to inhuman or degrading treatment.
The board of 9 members, the largest-ever on a Privy Council appeal, also
declared the mandatory death sentence for murder in Jamaica
unconstitutional and, as a result, an automatic death sentence must now be
considered unlawful. The validity of Watson's own sentence will be
reassessed in a Jamaican court.
A team of A&O lawyers had been working free of charge on the case over
several years as part of the firms drive towards pro bono work. The
outcome is testament to their efforts in the Caribbean.
"We're convinced prisoners ought to be entitled to a fair sentence and not
a mandatory death penalty," said Arnondo Chakrabarti, one of the A&O
litigation associates who worked on Wilson's case.
"We're pretty fortunate in the job we do because we can actually take the
time out to do things like this. The service and skills we provide really
can be a great help for people who might not otherwise have access to
legal support," added Chakrabarti, who also recently worked on a pro bono
basis for political pressure group Free Tibet.
The A&O team worked alongside the Independent Jamaica Council for Human
Rights, a charitable body dedicated to averting miscarriages of justice in
the Caribbean. "We simply could not have got this far without them," said
Owain Morgan, an A&O associate who was part of the litigation team.
Prisoners held on death row in both Jamaica and Trinidad frequently endure
appalling conditions and the Privy Council represents the last throw of
the dice for many of them.
The A&O litigation team instructed Nicholas Blake QC and Julian Knowles of
Matrix Chambers, Colin Nicholls QC of 3 Raymond Buildings and Lloyd
Barnett and Nancy Anderson of the Jamaican Bar, all of whom also worked on
the case without charge.
Last year, A&O lawyers devoted nearly 50,000 hours to pro bono work
worldwide, which is the equivalent of 11.6m in chargeable hours.
As part of the pro bono drive, the firm now offers its trainees the
opportunity to take a 3-month placement at international charity Liberty,
with whom it has a long association after working on several high-profile
CARIBBEAN / UNITED KINGDOM:
A fight to the death - Lawyers are challenging a Privy Council ruling that
allows capital punishment in the Caribbean.
In the days when pirates terrorised the waters of the Caribbean, British
justice was necessarily harsh and persistent law-breakers often ended up
swinging from the gibbet. Three hundred years later the people of these
tropical islands are still subject to the death penalty, a direct colonial
hangover in which British judges continue to have an important role.
For many of the 250 men and women languishing on death row on the islands
of the Caribbean, their only hope of reprieve is an appeal to a group of
privy councillors meeting 4,500 miles away in a small courtroom in Downing
Street. Earlier this month a special panel of the Privy Council gave
itself a historic opportunity to end the mandatory death penalty for
Caribbean defendants convicted of murder. It was an opportunity that human
rights lawyers believe was cruelly spurned. In a landmark ruling the panel
delivered judgments that permit Trinidad and Barbados to continue to
execute anyone convicted of murder.
The appeals concerned cases in which all the defendants had been sentenced
to hang. In Trinidad Charles Matthew, 61, was convicted of killing his
former lover, 22-year-old Louise Gittens. While in Barbados Lennox Boyce
and Jeffrey Joseph were convicted of murder and similarly sentenced to
Dismissing their appeals, the judges of the Privy Council ruled it was up
to the parliaments of these Caribbean islands to change the law and not a
In so ruling the court paved the way for a Trinidad court to impose death
sentences on the men responsible for killing former BBC newsreader,
Lynette Lithgow Pearson, who was living in Trinidad. Lynette Lithgow
Pearson, 51, her mother Maggie Lee, 83, and brother-in-law John Cropper,
59, were killed in a robbery in 2001. Other cases are expected to follow.
The Privy Council judgment drew immediate criticism from human rights
lawyers who have been campaigning for many years to end capital punishment
in the Caribbean. Edward Fitzgerald QC and Keir Starmer QC, 2 Doughty
Street chambers barristers involved in the appeals, described the ruling
as "bitterly disappointing".
Their sense of disappointment was exacerbated by the narrow ruling, with
four judges, including Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the senior law lord,
delivering dissenting judgements. The Doughty Street lawyers said: "The
majority in the Privy Council have taken a step wholly inconsistent with
that court's usual, enlightened, approach to human rights.
"Those charged with implementing the criminal law in Trinidad and Barbados
will now be forced to apply laws which are universally acknowledged to be
inhuman. The constitutions of Trinidad and of Barbados were intended to be
read so as to protect human rights, not to deny them. The ruling is
bitterly disappointing both for those on death row and more generally for
the development of the law in the Caribbean."
Andie Lamb, director of Reprieve, the organisation that campaigns against
capital punishment, says that international law requires that the death
penalty should be reserved for only the most serious crimes. "By imposing
a death sentence for all murder convictions the courts are failing to
acknowledge mitigating circumstances, relating either to the offence or
She says: "In order not to deny an individual their basic human rights
Reprieve is resolute that, even if convicted of murder, they must be
allowed the opportunity to try and persuade the court that a death
sentence might be an inappropriate or disproportionate sentence."
But in the case of Jamaica the Privy Council unanimously accepted that the
imposition of a mandatory death penalty was unconstitutional.
In the appeal, Lambert Watson was convicted in the Hanover Circuit Court
of the Supreme Court of stabbing to death his nine-month-old daughter,
Eugenie Georgina Watson, and her mother. Here the judges distinguished the
constitutions of Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados from that of Jamaica.
They said: "In Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados these laws have remained,
in all essentials, unchanged. In Jamaica the law was changed, because the
inhumanity of requiring the death penalty to be imposed on all defendants
convicted of murder was recognised."
In reaching its decision the Privy Council recognised that there was a
very high incidence of murder and the widespread use of firearms in
Caribbean countries. It said: "So long as those conditions prevail, and so
long as a discretionary death sentence is retained, it may well be that
judges in Jamaica will find it necessary, on orthodox sentencing
principles, to impose the death sentence in a proportion of cases which
is, by international standards, unusually high.
The council added: "Prevailing levels of crime and violence cannot affect
the underlying legal principle at stake, which is that no one, whatever
his crime, should be condemned to death without an opportunity to try and
persuade the sentencing judge that he does not deserve to die."
The rulings will help to steady the Privy Council's relationship with the
governments of the Caribbean but it is unlikely to curb the move towards a
new Caribbean Court of Appeal to replace British judges.
There are about 50 men and women under sentence of death by hanging in
Jamaica. Its government will be dismayed that after the Privy Council
ruling they must now review all these cases. Jamaica is regarded as the
driving force to create a new court that will be free from the "meddling"
of the Privy Council. Some fear that the new court will become a "hanging
court". But the initiative reflects the frustrations of the governments of
Caribbean countries where capital punishment is popular with the voting
public who see it as the most effective means of combating violent crime.
Without an independent final court of appeal sited in London, countries
like Trinidad and Barbados would have executed many more prisoners.
Nevertheless, human rights lawyers say Britain'sassociation with this
punishment serves only to condone its use.
Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, in his dissenting judgment of Charles
Matthew, made the point that until 1965 mandatory death sentences for
murder existed in the UK and no one thought them an "unusual or inhumane
form of punishment". But he said: "Times have changed. Human rights values
set higher standards today. Murder can be committed in all manner of
circumstances. In some the death penalty will plainly be excessive and
These changing times are reflected in a landmark judgment in April 2001
when the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal ruled that the mandatory death
penalty is unconstitutional. This judgment was upheld by the Privy Council
in March 2002. As a result, the mandatory death sentence has been outlawed
in Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis, St
Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines.
The Doughty Street lawyers say the battle against the mandatory death
penalty will go on. Keir Starmer QC will be taking the Barbados case to
the Inter-American Court. And in Trinidad another case is set for the
court. For Lord Nicholls the case for reform is clear. "To condemn every
person convicted of murder to death regardless of the circumstances is a
form of inhumane punishment. A sentence of death which lacks
proportionality lacks humanity."
(source: The Independent)
Russian agents could face death penalty in Qatar
The lawyers of 2 Russian intelligence officers who were convicted of
assassinating Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in Qatar on June
30, appealed the conviction. Their appeal will be heard in a Doha court on
The Vremya Novostey newspaper comments on this case. It published an
interview with Najib Al-Nuaimi, a well-known lawyer who was Justice
Minister of Qatar in 1995-1997; currently he chairs an international
committee for the protection of Guantanamo detainees.
According to Dr. Al-Nuaimi, the Russian agents, who were sentenced to life
imprisonment, could face the death penalty now. He said there had been
examples in Qatar. The lawyer noted that court rulings should not contain
accusations against any other country. "The court should consider a
concrete crime, without going into politics. Politics must not affect the
verdict even if suspects were linked to government agencies. For the first
time in Qatar's judicial history, the verdict accuses another country,
whose citizens are suspected of a crime," Dr. Al-Nuaimi stressed.
He also said that legal proceedings against the Russians should be over by
January-February 2005. The ex-Justice Minister noted that a petition for
pardon could only be considered by the Emir of Qatar in 10 years, though
life sentence in Qatar is 25 years.
"Russia and Qatar could agree that the convicts serve their sentences in
their home country. This is possible. For example, this happens with US
citizens who were arrested in Mexico or other Latin American countries,"
Dr. Al-Nuaimi said. He added that the Emir was against the death penalty
Speaking about mistakes made in the legal proceedings, the lawyer said
both parties had made mistakes. "First, it was a mistake to arrest Qatari
sportsmen in Moscow. They were released later, but this incident had a
negative impact on the mood in Doha. Secondly, Russia itself politicized
the process. Instead of discussing legal and procedural issues, they spoke
about politics. The arrested also made mistakes. After they were arrested,
they were not immediately given an opportunity to meet with a lawyer of a
consul. They should have kept their mouths shut, and they spoke," Dr.
He said the accused had been detained in decent conditions during the
trial. According to him, they were not in a prison but in a special villa.
The lawyer does not know where the Russians will be kept after the trial,
but he said they would certainly be in a VIP prison, with a TV, air
conditioning, furniture, newspapers and even servants.
Equatorial Guinea readies for Zim 69 extradition
Equatorial Guinea is preparing an extradition request for 69 alleged
mercenaries to be sent to that country for trial, the South African
Constitutional Court was told on Monday.
The court was hearing arguments why it should intervene in the trial of
the group which is facing various charges. They are currently being held
in a prison in Zimbabwe.
Advocate Francois Joubert argued before Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson
and 9 colleagues that they had the power under the South Africa's Bill of
Rights to help the 69 men.
Joubert told the court the men faced charges of conspiring to murder the
president of Equatorial Guinea and overthrowing his government.
"Our clients dread the prospect of ending up in Equatorial Guinea,"
Joubert said. "This country is in a position to apply for extradition,"
Joubert told the court, arguing that such a measure would prevent Zimbabwe
from handing over the men for trial to Malabo where they could face the
"If it emerges that they are extradited to Equatorial Guinea, they will be
at substantial risk of facing execution," said Joubert.
Joubert faced repeated questions from the judges as to where he thought
they got the power to intervene on behalf of the men by asking that they
be extradited to South Africa to face charges under the Regulation of
Foreign Military Assistance Act, or to seek assurances that the men would
not be extradited to Equatorial Guinea or face the death penalty if
The appeal to the Constitutional Court came just two days before the 70
men go on trial in Harare.
The 70 men, all carrying South African passports, were arrested on March 7
at Harare airport where their plane had stopped off to pick up weapons
from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.
The suspected mercenaries deny the coup plotting charges and contend they
were en route to guard a diamond mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(sources: Sapa / AFP)
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