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Barbados set to abolish mandatory death penalty

The mandatory death penalty will soon be a thing of the past, as Government looks to bring legislation to Parliament to amend the Offences Against The Persons Act by the end of next month.

Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite told the media this morning that one challenge currently faced was that by the time someone was sentenced and the process had run its course of appeal, the time frame for implementing the death penalty had often elapsed.

“That is part of the reason why you have so many persons sitting on death row over the years and nothing has happened. Then you have the Inter-American Court On Human Rights, which ruled recently that we [Barbados] needed to, and we committed to, address the mandatory nature of the death penalty.

“You would only have the death penalty imposed under certain circumstances; so that if the perpetrators attack a juror, or the lawyer, or the prosecutor, or the judge . . . those are the areas that we are saying that in fact the death penalty should be imposed. Now, once [someone] has been found guilty of murder, then the hanging is automatic. That disappears,” he said.

Barbados ratified the American Convention On Human Rights in 1981 and accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court On Human Rights on April 4, 2000. The country has since been under pressure from the institution to amend its death penalty legislation.

In December 2007, the court handed down a judgment in a case brought by four convicted murderers, ruling that the Government of Barbados had violated the rights of the petitioners under the American Convention On Human Rights by seeking to apply the death sentence in their cases.

This was the first occasion on which Barbados appeared before the court.

The seven-member panel of judges, meeting in Costa Rica, ruled that Michael McDonald Huggins, Lennox Ricardo Boyce, Jeffrey Joseph and the late Fredrick Benjamin Atkins could not have been lawfully executed.

The London-based Privy Council had already commuted the death sentences imposed on Huggins in accordance with the landmark Pratt and Morgan ruling in Jamaica, which set a precedent in terms of the length of time prisoners could spend awaiting judgment before it was deemed to be inhumane and degrading treatment. Boyce and Joseph also had their sentences commuted by the Barbados Privy Council; Antiretroviral drugs Atkins died as a result of an illness.

Brathwaite noted that the decision to remove the mandatory nature of the sentence woud provoke much discussion across the island, adding that there was a general sense among members of the public that the law should stay as it is.

“My sense is that Barbadians seem to believe that once someone has committed a murder that they should forfeit their life, but that only applies when your family member is not involved. In other words, when the person charged is related to you, you see a different side of the coin.

“We are going to have to have that discussion as a country, whether it is the right answer, whether in 2014 that in a country like ours, that should be the norm. We will have a discussion and hopefully, the country as a whole will buy into the fact that the mandatory nature of the death penalty was one thing that we needed to address,” he said, adding that it was also his responsibility as an elected legislator to pursue areas where he believed better paths could be taken to guide the country.

“This is one of the areas that I will lead on because, as Attorney General, I think it is my responsibility.

“Do you know how many people call me saying to me that if we bring back the cat [cat-o-nine-tails] that there would be less crime? That if we hang some people that there would be less murders? There is no evidence to suggest that,” Brathwaite added.

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