Blow to death penalty push in TT
The Trinidad and Tobago government today suffered a major blow to its attempt to have the death penalty carried out on convicted murderers after Opposition legislators banded together and refused to provide the necessary special majority vote for the successful passage of the amendment to the country’s Constitution.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar in a last minute bid to save the amendment to the Constitution had sought to suspend the sitting of Parliament and hold a meeting with Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley, who declined the offer.
“My understanding is that the Attorney General has spoken for you and the insults that came from him came from you as well, “Rowley said to loud applause from the Opposition benches.
But Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said her administration regarded the measure “as an important measure” adding that “it was most unfortunate (for the position adopted by Rowley) because at the end of the day it will be the innocent people of this land who will suffer”.
Earlier Rowley had called on the government not to interfere with the Constitution and that executions could be carried out without the amendment.
“…are you prepared to instruct your staff to draft a bill to separately put that before the House and accept the opposition support for a bill that says it will not be put in the Constitution but will be enacted by a separate three quarters majority,” Rowley said.
But Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said that expert advice from prominent attorneys did not support the Opposition’s position.
Later in winding up debate, Ramlogan urged the Opposition to seriously consider the ramifications of their position.
“I beg of you don’t hold this nation to ransom,” Ramlogan said, adding “I ask my friends to consider the innocent and not to stand with those who murder them”.
The Attorney General, who piloted the measure earlier this month, told the Parliament that research by two Oxford University lecturers had found that in Trinidad and Tobago, 91 per cent of the population supported the death penalty.
“Stand up for the 91 per cent that support the death penalty and not the nine per cent,” he told the opposition, warning them that failure to support the government would result in them signing their own death warrants.
“This is the time for serious governance, the country is at a critical juncture,” he said, reminding legislators that the death penalty is the law of the land.
The nine-month-old Persad Bissessar government needed a special three-fourths majority to ensure passage of the legislation that would have categorized murder in Trinidad and Tobago.
But when the matter was put to the vote, all 29 government legislators supported the measure while 11 from the opposition benches voted. Former foreign affairs minister Paul Gopee Scoon was not present when the vote was taken in the 41-seat parliament.
“The bill needed 31 votes to be passed, it failed to get that amount, it is defeated,” said Speaker Wade Mark.
In January, the Prime Minister said that the new legislation would seek to overcome the hindrances to the implementation of the death penalty arising out of various Privy Council decisions, such as pre-trial delay, post-trial delay, legitimate expectation that the Mercy Committee would consider the findings of an international body and prison conditions.
The 1994 Pratt and Morgan case requires the death penalty to be executed within five years from the date of sentence, while a 1999 Privy Council ruling upheld the right of condemned persons to access international bodies to which Trinidad and Tobago has subscribed, even if such bodies are unable or unwilling to deal with capital cases within a reasonable time so as to allow Trinidad and Tobago to comply. (CMC)