Mandatory death penalty questioned
The Barbados Government has appeared before the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) over its failure to comply with a six-year binding order to abolish the mandatory death penalty.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Charles Leacock, QC, who was the lead representative for the Government via a video conference when the court held a compliance hearing last Thursday, said this country has to adhere to the order because it accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the IACHR since June 4, 2000.
Leacock, who appeared in association with Solicitor General Jennifer Edwards, QC, told Barbados TODAY this afternoon that the court convened the sitting to determine the Government’s adherence to orders it made in 2007 and 2009 in the murder cases of three Barbadian men, Lennox Boyce, Jeffrey Joseph and Tyrone Cadogan, who turned to that tribunal after exhausting all other legal channels.
The IAHRC ruled in those cases that Barbados’ mandatory death penalty was contrary to the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Convention on Human Rights because it was cruel and inhumane and that Section 26 of the Constitution must be amended or repealed since that section protects the existing laws.
“Those decisions were given . . . Boyce and Joseph . . . by the Costa Rican court in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Now we are in 2015 and the court had asked periodically for updates by Barbados on our compliance with the order,” Leacock explained.
“Now, why Barbados has to comply with the order? On June 4, 2000 Barbados accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court which means that all of the rulings of that court are binding on Barbados and must be put into effect,” the DPP added.
Defence lawyers, Barbadian Andrew Pilgrim QC and Britain’s Saul Lehfreund, who were in Costa Rica for the hearing, questioned a number of issues regarding the death sentence. One issue was related to the meaning of a life sentence for death in the Barbadian context.
“That is one of the provisions of the (proposed) bill that if the mandatory death sentence is removed, the judge will now have a discretion to impose a life sentence, and, or further, there is a prison release board proposed which would then be able to provide for release of a prisoner after two-thirds of the time,” Leacock explained.
The other queries of Pilgrim and Lehfreund were whether Clause 2 of the Offences Against the Person Act only provides for the penalty of life imprisonment for murder, timelines for parliamentary action and implementation of the new legislation, whether the proposal for Section 26 of the Constitution was adequate and the reason for delay in complying with the court order.
While the Costa Rica-based court called Barbados to account for the long delay in honouring its ruling, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which was also represented at the hearing, expressed frustration that despite assurances from Government, no action had been taken for six years.
Part of the DPP’s answer was that if the legislation was passed, the judge could impose a death sentence after fully considering the sentencing guidelines. “If a man is convicted of murder, if this legislation is passed, the judge can say the death penalty is not merited on these facts and could give you 15 years, just like what we normally give you for life imprisonment,” he further explained.
Leacock was unable to give the court any assurances as to when Parliament would debate the legislation except to say that sittings were scheduled to resume on October 10 and the bills would be looked at some time after that.
He also said that Section 26 of the Constitution had serious implications for governance in Barbados and must be dealt with carefully.
“However, the amendment as proposed in the Constitutional Amendment Bill seeks to add flexibility to the existing realities and also allow the Attorney General, within five years of the passage of the amendment, to bring such specific legislation to address any particular issue like corporal punishment or anything like that,” he said.
The Solicitor General explained that the delay in complying with the court order was due to the fact that Barbados was seeking to address all of the issues for compliance in a holistic manner, because it had to pass several pieces of legislation as the bills provided for.
She said, however, that on hindsight Barbados should have first passed the Offences Against the Person Bill 2014 which deals with the mandatory death penalty.