Understanding the Law
September 14, 2007

Pratt v Morgan Pt: 2

Two weeks ago, we looked at Pratt v Morgan, a Privy Council decision, No. 10 of 1993, which established the precedent that no one should be held on death row for more than five years, otherwise “there would be strong grounds for believing that the delay is such as to constitute inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.”{{more}} In that case, their Lordships of the Privy Council allowed the appeal, as the two appellants had been held on death row for a period of fourteen years. Their Lordships advised Her Majesty that their sentences be commuted to life imprisonment.” Since then, one appellant died in prison, and the other was released earlier this year.

In their written judgment, their Lordships chronicled the delays, which stretched over the period from January 15th 1979, when the prisoners were convicted, to 1993, when their death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Application was made to the Court of Appeal within three days of the conviction on 18th January, 1979, for leave to appeal, but the Legal Aid certificate, which was required to assign Counsel for their defence, was delayed. The Certificate was not obtained, even after the matter was listed. The case had to be taken off the list to await the Legal Aid certificate. When the case eventually reached the Court of Appeal, it was dismissed.

On dismissal of an appeal of this nature, the law requires that the reasons for the dismissal, together with other particulars of the case to be sent to the Governor General, to be forwarded to the Jamaican Privy Council (JPC). In this case, the intimation in writing to show an intention to apply to the JPC appeared not to have reached the Governor General.

Their Lordships felt that the case should have reached the JPC as early as 1981 for advice as to whether the men should be executed in accordance with sections 90 and 91 of the Constitution of Jamaica. These sections are supported by the “common law practice that execution followed as swiftly as practical after sentence.” Further delays came as a result of the political debate on the desirability of retaining the death sentence. During this time, there was a short moratorium on execution in Jamaica. Even after the Committee of Enquiry that was appointed to look into the matter gave its report and executions were resumed in 1981, no action was taken on behalf of the prisoners.

Their Lordships reported that that same year, one of the prisoners, Pratt, petitioned the American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and it was not until the IACHR wrote to the Government requesting information that they became aware of that application. The application was later dealt with, and it rejected Pratt’s submission, but it recommended commutation on humanitarian grounds.

No date having been fixed for the execution, neither the appellant nor the authorities took action. Then Pratt wrote to an English Member of Parliament, and was given a reply by the Registrar of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He thereafter sought the reasons for the dismissal of his appeal by the Court of Appeal. It was not until 24th September, 1984, that they were handed down.

Even though reasons were provided, there was still no effort to reach the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for leave by the appellants, and no referral by the authorities to the JPC for an execution date.

In 1986, another international body, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, was petitioned without success.

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