An ineffective law however you view it
Barbados is reviewing how it will treat its dormant death penalty law, even as authorities insist it will remain on the statute books.
Today our lawmakers began debating changes to the Offences Against The Person Act, which made it automatic for convicted murderers to be sentenced to death. Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite said the proposed amendments would now give judges a range of options for sentencing convicts, and that said amendments were intended to bring the country in line with its obligations under the Inter-American Convention On Human Rights.
Under the convention, the mandatory death sentence is regarded as a violation of the inalienable right of an individual to life, and is only applied to the most serious crimes.
“In countries that have not abolished the death penalty, it may be imposed only for the most serious crimes and pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court and in accordance with a law establishing such punishment, enacted prior to the commission of the crime. The application of such punishment shall not be extended to crimes to which it does not presently apply,” the convention states.
Mr Brathwaite, however, made it clear that the death penalty would remain on the law books. No doubt, the contentious issue is still a topic of hot debate with opponents and proponents equally arguing their case with much gusto. But it begs the question:
to what avail?
The fact is Barbados last carried out the death penalty on October 10, 1984, when three men –– Noel Jordan, Melvin Inniss and Errol Farrell were hanged. Thirty years have passed, within which we have had to grapple with some heinously violent crimes, and with the death penalty simply lying dormant in the law books.
To all intents and purposes, Barbados is an abolitionist in practice, even as we whisper or formally suggest the death penalty is still part of the penal code. One could easily partially blame the landmark 1993 Pratt and Morgan ruling by the British Privy Council that mandated that executions take place within five years of conviction.
It has been a thorn in the side of proponents who have long argued that the death penalty is a powerful deterrent to those among us bent on wreaking havoc in society. They insist that an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth must apply to avoid the families of victims from languishing without justice; and they maintain Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours should not allow themselves to be pressured by developed countries to abolish the law, since we don’t have the resources they possess to arrest crime.
Equally, opponents of the death penalty easily contend there is no evidence that its enforcement has resulted in a reduction of crime, or causes the lawless to think twice. Opponents also contend that taking another’s life is an act of revenge, and two wrongs won’t make a right. Furthermore, they contend, the Caribbean, which stands as a beacon of democracy in the world, must not have double standards by performing executions.
But wherein lies the answer? The death penalty is not an emotional issue, and maintaining an ineffective law will not put a stop to needless violent criminal acts. The root causes of such crime must be tackled by the very same lawmakers.
Perhaps, they would be better served if they focused on alternative means of sentencing that would lead to a drop in crime and the reformation of the hundreds who opted to have Dodds Prisons called home home.