EDITORIAL: Mercy for victims’ families too
IT WOULD BE QUITE HARD for any reasonable person to argue with any degree of strength that there is not significant merit in the suggestion of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Charles Leacock QC on the way the Mercy Committee of the local Privy Council exercises its power in relation to murder convicts.
Just days after the release of Peter Bradshaw, the notorious killer of Francia Plantation owner Cyril Sisnett back in 1984; and Oliver Sinclair Archer, who was found guilty of manslaughter in relation to the killing of Andrea Williams in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years in prison, Leacock called for consultation with the victims’ families before perpetrators are released early.
In essence, what we took from the DPP’s submission is that there is tremendous value in balancing the success of the prison’s rehabilitative programmes with the perpetrators and the sense among the families of the victims that justice has been served.
And in an environment where the imposition and execution of the death penalty are destined to become less frequently considered by those who administer the criminal justice system, it is very likely that the absence of consultation when the Mercy Committee is doing its work will lead to more frequent questioning of the process by the public.
We believe that as the society continues to evolve, acceptance back into the community of individuals who were imprisoned for the ultimate crime will be seen increasingly as a natural occurrence in our civilised environment. Indeed, it would be nothing less than hypocritical to expend resources on rehabilitating prisoners, have the experts certify their success, and then not be willing to release them back into the society.
But if the justification for each individual release can’t at least be shared and discussed with the families of the victims, who themselves are victims, and their own concerns and reservations taken into consideration, then the value of early release will never be fully appreciated. We believe this is essential to the successful reintegration of released prisoners.
We also hold the view that while the family may not be a disinterested party in any such consideration or discussion, in many respects that family would constitute the nearest embodiment of the public’s sentiment on such matters. And although there is no doubt that the individuals who make up the committee are honourable and respected members of the Barbadian community, it would be hard to equate them with the man in the street.
And it is that man in the street who would wish to be satisfied that all interests have been properly served when, for example, Oliver Sinclair Archer, who was given a life sentence in 1980 in Canada for killing Jennifer Wong, his girlfriend, was released early in 1988 on good behaviour and deported to Barbados four years later and then ended up being charged for two killings here, one of them resulting in his 25-year sentence.
As far as we are aware that Mercy Committee is under no legal obligation to report to the public, but it certainly would make a positive difference to how Barbadians feel about its work if its procedures included some kind of interaction with the public, even if that “public” is restricted to the families of the victims.
We support limitations on the use of the death penalty, which we believe is a position being adopted by more Barbadians, but in the absence of carrying out the death penalty there is the possibility of more and more murderers being released back into the society eventually. It can’t be unreasonable for those who will have to live with these supposedly rehabilitated murderers to know what factors guided the decision to release them early.