October 7, 2011
PM – State’s hands are tied on enforcing the death penalty

The state’s hands are tied when it comes to enforcing the death penalty.{{more}}

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, speaking at last Thursday’s sitting of the House of Assembly, said that while his administration was in full support of the death penalty, the court of law, more specifically the High Court, the Court of Appeal and Privy Council, have changed that through its interpretation of the Constitution.

In summary, Gonsalves explained that the courts have established that it is unconstitutional that the death penalty be mandatory.

“Thirty years ago, we understood that the death penalty was mandatory for murder, but the law courts have now changed that,” the prime minister said.

“They (the courts) interpret the law and statutes, and between 1993 and now, it is our opinion that the law courts have driven a veritable horse and chariot through what we considered hitherto the law of the land,” he explained.

Gonsalves further explained that the courts have undermined the view of the death penalty.

He referred to the Pratt and Morgan case from Jamaica, in which the Privy Council ruled that it was unconstitutional to hang someone if five years have passed since the date of sentencing.

“The Court of Appeal in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) went further, and was then confirmed by the Privy Council, that the death penalty in its mandatory state was unconstitutional. That it was unconstitutional to carry out the death penalty for murder in all cases,” the prime minister said.

According to Gonsalves, the Privy Council made a ruling that persons can only be hanged in cases that were deemed the “worst of the worst.”

The only way to change this, according to Gonsalves, was by way of a constitutional change.

The prime minister said that his government sought to amend sections of the Constitution to allow for the death penalty to be enforced.

“Changing the constitution and going to the people would have locked it tight. We took care of it so the judges couldn’t interfere with the carrying out of the death penalty,” he said.

This country’s electorate, however, voted against a change in the constitution in November 2009. The Prime Minister said it is not as simple as going to the House and amending the existing law, as based on the advice that has been given to the Government, the amended law would be struck down on the grounds of being unconstitutional. (DD)