Understanding the Law
June 1, 2007
Privy Council allowed appeal

Twenty-three years after the tragic events of October, 1983 in which Maurice Bishop, Prime Minister of Grenada and others were murdered, thirteen persons who were convicted and sentenced to death on 4th December, 1986, appealed this decision. {{more}} The appellants included Bernard Coard, Callistus Bernard, Lester Redhead, Christopher Stroude, Hudson Austin, Liam James, Leon Cornwall, John Anthony Ventour, Dave ,b.Bartholomew, Ewart Layne, Colville Mc Barnett, Selwyn Strachan and Cecil Prime and the action was brought against the Attorney General. The appeal (No. 10 of 2006) was allowed and given by the Privy Council on 7th February, 2007

Background

The events of October 19, 1983 would never be forgotten by persons in the Caribbean who listened to the commentaries on radio as events unfolded on that fateful day. Mr. Maurice Bishop came to power in 1979, after he ousted the previous constitutional Government of Eric Gairy in a revolution. By 1983, the revolutionary party had split into two factions with Maurice Bishop and his followers on one side and Bernard Coard and his supporters on the other. There was a violent confrontation which resulted in the death of Maurice Bishop and some of his supporters. Caribbean people would not forget the call to arms by the Coard regime as Grenada was invaded by American and Caribbean forces.

New Courts

Before the revolution of 1979, Grenada was a member of the West Indies Associated States and appeals were made possible through the West Indies Associated States Supreme Court and the Privy Council. By the People’s Law No. 4 of 25 March, 1979, the Act establishing these institutions were abolished and Grenada established its own Court of Appeal and High Court. Through People’s law No 84 of 1979, appeals to the Privy Council were abolished. It was, however, under these new institutions that the appellant were indicted and tried. The defendants challenged the validity and jurisdiction of the High Court by way of a constitutional motion but this was dismissed. They were convicted of murder and given the mandatory sentence of death. The appeals to the Court of Appeal in July 1991 were also dismissed The appellants went on to seek leave to appeal to the Privy Council but this was also denied in July 1985.

In the trial conducted by Byron J, the appellants withdrew instructions from their counsel. They were disruptive and from time to time had to be put out of court. They gave no evidence but made “indicative statements” from the dock, essentially giving what they would have said in evidence.

Death Penalty to Life imprisonment

On August 15, 1991, the sentence of death was commuted to one of life imprisonment by the Governor General on the advice of the Minister after consultation with the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy. After that the appellants remained in custody without much event.

Constitutional Motion

Meanwhile development in the law provided another chance to seek a change in their position. On April 2, 2001 the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in the case of R v Hughes held that the death penalty was an “in human or degrading punishment”. On September 23, 2002, the appellants filed a constitutional motion claiming that their sentence of death was unlawful. They also claimed by extension the commutation to life imprisonment was unlawful. (To be continued next week for the reasoning of the Privy Council.)

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is:exploringthelaw@yahoo.com