Attorneys opposed to resumption of hanging
Two prominent attorneys rejected on Wednesday, the public outcry for a resumption of capital punishment in Barbados to tackle a recent “spike” in gun-related killings.
Defence attorney Andrew Pilgrim, QC, and constitutional attorney, Senator Gregory Nicholls said they were strongly opposed to any such decision during an appearance on the Down to Brass Tacks radio talk show on VOB 92.9 FM, to discuss the ongoing constitutional reform exercise.
With the first two hours of the weekday talk show dedicated to possible reforms within the judicial system during the planned revamp of the Constitution of Barbados, the issue of capital punishment came into sharp focus again.
The country has been reeling from several violent gun deaths with five people dying within five days last week.
Attorney General Dale Marshall and Commissioner of Police Richard Boyce linked the recent spike in gun crimes to “specific” groups targeting each other during a news conference last week, but some Barbadians have appealed for more action and less talk from the authorities, including the resumption of hanging.
Pilgrim, a former president of the Barbados Bar Association, said, however, he was strongly opposed to any form of capital punishment as a matter of “fundamental principle”.
“The idea of the State premeditating killing people is something that I abhor because I believe in life, I don’t believe in death or killing people deliberately by way of planning,” he said.
“There is nothing that could be more corrupt than the State planning to kill its own citizenry.”
Nicholls, a member of the Constitution Review Commission, added that there have been instances in the past where accused people were wrongfully executed, and he was not in favour of capital punishment, but he felt sentences could be longer for some categories of killers.
“We get it wrong sometimes,” he said. “The court does not always get it right, and we see time and time again people exonerated long after they have been executed by the State – evidence turns up, a witness was telling lies. How can you repay a life that the State took away in such circumstances?
“I feel that when somebody kills somebody, they should go to prison for a long, long, long, long, long time – and not 12 years for manslaughter as the guidelines will tell you – send them away for a long time.”
The government senator said the death penalty was still on the books, but legal precedent ruled that it must not be mandatory for every murder conviction.
“What the courts are saying is that the culpability for the commission of that crime of murder is not the same as if a man goes on a rampage, and rapes and kills a set of women – a serial killer – or goes into a school and blows up a set of children.
“The level of culpability in terms of imposing a sentence cannot be the same, and the courts should determine whether the death penalty is the appropriate penalty in the circumstances. Were there any mitigating or abrogating factors, which will require a more severe penalty, and therefore, the death penalty should only be reserved for those heinous of crimes.”
Pilgrim also addressed the touchy issue of murder accused getting bail, dismissing suggestions that lawyers were to be blamed and arguing that the judicial system needed to fix the backlog of cases, which led to offenders being released.
“Lawyers cannot be at fault if cases are being adjourned for years and years,” he said. “I am not saying lawyers can’t get two or three adjournments, but a lawyer cannot get five years’ worth of adjournments.
“So when you find a case where a person is on bail for murder… I sit in prison for three years waiting on my trial for murder. Three years later, I get bail. What would be the priority in the DPP’s (Director of Public Prosecution’s) office with me? Not to get me tried?
“It’s not for us to run around and say they shouldn’t get bail in the first place. They shouldn’t have gotten bail, but when they got bail, people should say, ‘It took us three years to get this (case) ready, they get bail, but let’s get it (the case) ready now then’.”