Backing for CCJ ruling
It was long in coming. This was the view of Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim after the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), with Sir Dennis Byron in his last sitting as president, struck down the mandatory death penalty for murder in Barbados on Wednesday.
The island’s highest appellate court determined that “the mandatory death penalty breached the right to protection of the law [under the Constitution] . . . as it deprived a court of the opportunity to exercise the quintessential judicial function of tailoring the punishment to fit the crime”, and they be returned to the Supreme Court for sentencing.
This followed the consolidation of two unrelated death penalty cases from Barbados. Jabari Sensimania Nervais v The Queen and Dwayne Omar Severin v The Queen, were joined because both appeals challenged the murder convictions and constitutionality of the mandatory death sentence.
Severin, of Crane, St Philip, was found guilty of killing Virgil Barton, on November 30, 2009, near his home in Lucas Street in the same parish.
Nervais, of 3rd Avenue, Sisnett Road, Bannister Land, St Michael, was convicted of murdering Jason Ricardo Burton on November 17, 2006. Burton lived at Perseverance Drive, Jackson, St Michael.
Last May, then president of the Court of Appeal, Justice of Appeal Sandra Mason (now Governor General Dame Sandra Mason), dismissed the appeals of both men. She said Parliament would have to make the necessary changes to Section 2 of the Offences Against The Person Act, if the death penalty were to be placed at the discretion of sentencing judges.
Prior to that, former Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite announced the Democratic Labour Party’s plans to abolish the death penalty in keeping with the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights in 2014. He raised the matter in Parliament in 2015 and again last year.
Pilgrim represented Nervais in his appeals both before the Court of Appeal and the CCJ.
“The court was asked the question, is it appropriate to have the mandatory death penalty [as] every person found guilty of murder without any mitigation, anybody saying, ‘Well, this person was only 19 years old, they lived whatever type of life, there were certain circumstances in which you can suggest there was some sort of provocation’. The court don’t get to consider those things as the law stood today. In other words, once you’re convicted of murder, automatically the sentence was a death sentence,” Pilgrim explained.
He added that with yesterday’s ruling, “there is some consideration of the offender and of the offence, and that mitigating and aggravating circumstances can be taken into account”.
However, the senior lawyer reminded that hanging was still on the statute books.
The last people to be hanged in Barbados were Noel Jordan, Melvin Inniss and Errol Farrell on October 10, 1984. (RA)