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Call for referendum on death penalty

GERCINE CARTER, [email protected]

Call for referendum on death penalty

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A referendum would have to be put to Barbadians before any decision could be taken to abolish the death penalty.

So said Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Jerome Walcott, who made it clear today that a bill before the Senate was intended to abolish the mandatory death penalty only.

Leading off debate on the Offences Against The Person (Amendment) Bill, 2018, he stressed: “Passing of the bill does not mean that the death penalty has been abolished in Barbados.”

He explained that as the legislation now stood, judges were “pigeon-holed” in making judgments. The amendment, he added, would give them flexibility and the discretion to determine whether the nature and circumstances of the offence warranted the imposition of the death penalty or another sentence.

He pointed out Barbados was bound by international treaties it had signed, as well as rulings of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) with regard to the mandatory death penalty.

In 2004 the London-based Privy Council ruled in Boyce and Joseph, two Barbadians convicted of murder, that a mandatory death sentence was “cruel, inhuman” punishment.

The CCJ in June ruled that a section of the Offences Against The Person Act was unconstitutional because it provided for a mandatory sentence of death. It also held that Section 11 of the Barbados Constitution, which gives the right to protection of the law, “was enforceable and that the mandatory death penalty breached that right as it deprived the court of the opportunity to exercise the  quintessential judicial function of tailoring the punishment to fit the crime”.

Walcott told the Senate there were currently 11 people on Death Row who would now have to be resentenced on the basis of this ruling, “because their sentences are now considered by the CCJ to be unconstitutional”.

Pointing out there were 62 people awaiting trial for murder and six for manslaughter, he said: “If we were not to pass this bill today, it will put our judicial system in a quandary. You would have 68 people to have trials done and at the end of it all, judges would know they are confined by the mandatory death sentence and if they convict someone, it would be against the knowledge that the CCJ has ruled that is unconstitutional.” (GC)