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May 29 2009 | BARBADOS


Mandatory death penalty abolished

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Caribbean Net News

Barbados to abolish mandatory death penalty, says Deputy PM

By Oscar Ramjeet

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- Barbados Deputy Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, who is also the country's Attorney General has announced that the mandatory death sentence will be abolished in Barbados.

He made the announcement following a decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which stated that the power to have the death sentence commuted by an executive body, as is the current situation, is not the same as having the appropriate punishment determined by a competent court of law.

This may dispense fears by some Caribbean countries, which are reportedly reluctant to join the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final appellate court, because they claim it would be "a hanging court", unlike the Privy Council, which has reservations with regard to judicial execution.

On November 20 2007, in the case of Lennox Boyce, Jeffrey Joseph, Michael Huggins, and Frederick Atkins Boyce v Barbados, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found, in a landmark judgment, that the mandatory death sentence imposed on all those convicted of murder in Barbados violates the right to life and fails to limit the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes.

A news release stated that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had also found other serious violations of the American Convention on Human Rights to the detriment of all of the applicants. The court held, inter alia, that the prison conditions endured by the applicants constituted cruel and degrading treatment.

The government of Barbados had provided the Inter American Court with its Compliance report on the actions the State proposes taking in order to adhere to the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in this case. Barbados has agreed in principle to comply with the judgment in full and the Death Penalty Project said it welcomed this decision.

The Barbados decision to abolish mandatory death sentence follows a recent decision by the Jamaican government, which less than two months ago passed legislation upholding the death sentence.

The death penalty still exists in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) and St Kitts and Nevis, less than a year ago, executed a man for killing his lover. However, there is no death penalty in the British Dependent Territories of the ECSC: Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, because there is no death penalty in the United Kingdom and by Order in Council those territories cannot carry out executions.

Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana still retain the death penalty, but only execute in extreme cases.

Saul Lehrfreund and Parvais Jabbar, human rights lawyers and executive directors of the Death Penalty Project, stated, “The decision of Barbados to comply in full with the Orders of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights by taking measures to bring its domestic law into conformity with its international obligations to human rights is a ground breaking development in the implementation of international human rights standards. It sets an example to other states about fulfilling obligations to its citizens through the active enforcement of decisions of human rights institutions.”

The Death Penalty Project is an international human rights organisation providing free legal representation to many individuals still facing the death penalty in the Caribbean and Africa.

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