FALLING IN LINE
Barbados takes step to abolish mandatory death penalty
Barbados is moving to strike the mandatory death penalty from the statute books, several years after an international human rights court mandated Government to take the step.
In the absence of Opposition Members of Parliament who kept their promise not to sit in the House of Assembly as long as Speaker of the House Michael Carrington remained in his seat, debate began today on changes to the Offences Against the Person Act that would remove the obligation of a judge to sentence to death a person convicted of murder.
Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, who tabled the Offences Against the Person (Amendment) Bill, 2014, made it clear, however, that it did not mean the state was getting “soft on crime” or moving towards abolition of capital punishment.
If the amendments are approved by Parliament, Trinidad & Tobago would be the only country in the English-speaking Caribbean maintaining the mandatory death penalty.
However, it will take some more time for Barbados to make the move as debate on the bill has been adjourned until next month when the House of Assembly meets again.
In tabling the bill, Brathwaite explained that the changes would bring Barbados in compliance with a ruling of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR), to which this country is a signatory.
In the case of Boyce et al v Barbados, the IACHR delivered a landmark judgment that the mandatory death sentence imposed on all persons convicted of murder in Barbados violated the right to life as it is arbitrary and fails to limit the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes.
Attorneys had taken the case of Lennox Boyce and Jeffrey Joseph, who were sentenced to hang for a 1999 murder, to the IACHR after several appeals. Following the court’s ruling, the duo’s sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.
The attorney general said he was happy Barbados was now at the stage of abolishing mandatory death sentences, noting that the country was currently “on the wrong side of the law”.
“We have been at this for the last four years where we’ve been mandated to take these legislative measures to address the issue of the court’s decision and, not withstanding the fact that we had sent signals to the court, we are now better positioned, once this amendment is adopted by this House, to send a message to the [IACHR] that we do intend to comply with its judgment,” Brathwaite said.
Since 1924, Barbados carried out 60 hangings, with the last three being in 1984.
The British government and other members of the European Union have been lobbying Barbados to remove the death penalty from its law books altogether.
However, making his position on that matter clear, Brathwaite said: “I am not signaling to the country . . . that at this point in time I am comfortable that there are not circumstances on which the death penalty is merited.”
According to statistics provided to the House by the attorney general, Barbados averages below 10 murders per 100,000 people, one of the lowest rates in the region.
The annual average is 28, many of them involving guns.
Males accounted for 70 per cent of the homicides as both perpetrators and victims.
Further, a significant number of perpetrators and victims was between the ages of 20 and 39.