PM wants loopholes closed  on death penalty issue
July 24, 2009
PM wants loopholes closed on death penalty issue

If it can be accepted as fact that the majority of Vincentians support the death penalty, especially in instances where the murder is considered particularly gruesome, then those citizens are being challenged to translate those emotions into a vote for the proposed new constitution later this year.{{more}}

The challenge has been issued by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.

One of those murders that re-awoke the death penalty call on the streets of this country occured when Daniel “Compay” Dick Trimmingham beheaded and buried Albert “Bertie” Browne in the Carriere Mountains on January 8, 2003.

On November 17, 2003, Trimmingham was sentenced to death for the gruesome crime, but in 2004, the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal ordered that he be retried.

He was again found guilty in December 2004 and was sentenced to death. The judgment and sentence were upheld by the East Caribbean Court of Appeal in October 2005, but the Privy Council has stepped in and spared Trimmingham’s life, saying that his crime wasn’t “worst of the worst, such as to call for the ultimate penalty of capital punishment.”

“This particular murder is so gruesome that if this is not the most gruesome of all which will attract the death penalty, well one has to reasonably raise the question what will attract the death penalty,” Prime Minister Gonsalves said at a press conference last Monday, July 20th.

Saying that he was disturbed by the Law Lords’ rulings, Gonsalves used the opportunity to encourage Vincentians to vote yes to the new constitution when the referendum is held later this year in November.

He said that if Vincentians don’t vote in favour of the proposed new constitution, which attempts to close the loop holes in the justice system regarding the death penalty, then he doesn’t want to hear complaints when murderers are not hanged for offences society deems worthy of such punishment.

He called on citizens to “put our markers down.”

The opposition New Democratic Party has called on its membership to vote no to the proposed constitution, labeling the changes in it as cosmetic, and saying that enough has not been done to limit the powers of the office of the Prime Minister, among other things.

Gonsalves further stated that he intends to use the three-month review and fine-tuning period to make the law regarding the death penalty even stronger.

The Prime Minister explained that in Chapter 3, section 29, number 3 of the proposed constitution, the issue of the time limit for the death penalty is addressed.

According to that provision, it shall not be considered cruel or inhumane to hang someone up to one year after “the exhaustion of all proceedings embarked upon and diligently pursued by the person thus sentenced.”

This is to directly counteract the landmark Privy Council ruling of 1994, which commuted the death sentences of Jamaican duo Earl Pratt and Ivan Morgan, who were sentenced to death for a 1977 murder. The Council found it to be cruel and inhumane to execute someone after they had been on death row for five years or more.

Morgan eventually died in prison, but Pratt was released from prison in 2007 after serving 30 years.

Dr Gonsalves’ concern now, however, following the Privy Council’s latest ruling, is that the law has to be so tightened so that it is “in a position that it cannot be interfered with,” saying that judges, at all levels of the justice system, even if the Privy Council is replaced by the Caribbean Court of Justice (as is proposed in the draft constitution), should not be given the wiggle room to defer capital punishment for particular categories of homicides.

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on the heels of the “Compay” judgment, Director of Public Prosecutions Colin Williams said that no one may ever pay the ultimate price for committing a murder in St. Vincent and the Grenadines once the Privy Council remains this country’s highest Court of Appeal.

“Their epistemological foundation is in abolition,” the DPP added, saying that it seems apparent that no matter what the crime, they will be set on avoiding the imposition of the death penalty.

In an obvious pitch for constitutional reform, Williams said that the legislature should “redirect for the Judiciary what is considered to be appropriate.”

Meanwhile, prominent defence attorney Kay Bacchus Browne, who represented Trimmingham, told SEARCHLIGHT that she is opposed to the death penalty on two main grounds.

She said that there has been no research, including research done by her that suggests that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. Secondly, while serving as Registrar of the High Court here, she witnessed a triple hanging in February, 1995.

Bacchus Browne said that the suffering that she saw the men go through before they died convinced her that no human being, no matter what his crime, should be subjected to that fate.

She, however, said that she won’t rule out supporting the death penalty in some instances if the method of execution was different – less cruel.

“The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Beheadings, electrocutions, hangings, lethal injections, shootings and stonings have no place in the 21st century,” is, however, the position of Human Rights watchdogs, Amnesty International, as expressed by its Secretary General, Irene Khan.