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Senior Counsel on hanging issue: Laws needed to get around Privy Council ruling
Senior Counsel Israel Khan has urged Government to expedite legislation to circumvent the Privy Council’s Pratt and Morgan judgment which makes hanging difficult to implement. “In the absence of such legislation, it would be difficult to resume hangings,” Khan said in an interview yesterday. He said in the Pratt and Morgan matter, the Privy Council said if a person was convicted of murder they must be executed within five years of their conviction.
As the law currently stood, he added, that judgment could frustrate the process toward hangings. Khan said: “Government should therefore categorise murder into first degree—for heinous, deliberate vicious slayings—second and third degree and retain the death penalty for first-degree murder. This could expedite the system. Not every murder case deserves the execution penalty.
“The Opposition also needs to look at this seriously in T&T’s interest since they may be government some day and may need the help of the Opposition of that time.” PNM MP Colm Imbert said Government’s recent statements about the death penalty meant the administration was “desperate.”
He added: “This issue was dormant for more than a year. In the bill on this they had proposed to have stages for murder penalties and involving the death penalty. “We told them it would make it easier for the Privy Council to strike down the death penalty rather than harder and we told them to go back and fix it.”
Last Sunday Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said the Government had written to the Opposition on its recommendations. Asked about that, Imbert said yesterday the Opposition had told the Government what to do in the debate on that bill. Another Senior Counsel, Douglas Mendes, said nothing currently prevented hangings, though the law as it stood was in violation of T&T’s international obligations.
He said the Pratt and Morgan judgment was in force when the Dole Chadee gang was hanged in 1999. Mendes said, however, evidence was yet to be presented that the death penalty was indeed a crime deterrent. While Guyana and Jamaica have moved to get rid of the mandatory death penalty, he said, declaring it unconstitutional, and towards having judges determined the final penalty in sentences, T&T still has the death penalty, contrary to its international obligations.
Former AG speaks
Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, during whose administration the Chadee gang was hanged, added: “Government’s anti-crime measures are a panic reaction and public relations gimmick to hide its inability to deal with crime. “The facts will show there have not been recent convictions for murders in which you can consider the question of hanging. Most of the convictions for murder are cases where the Pratt and Morgan judgment deadline have already passed.
“To have hangings you must detect the problems and prosecute people for murder. The scandal is Government has not done anything to increase detection rates. “So Government is not really trying to introduce hangings. If they were, soon after entering office they would have had machinery implemented to expedite the process of appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Commission, of the few convictions of murders they have.
“We did this with the Chadee cases and we beat the deadline in that situation.” Maharaj added: “Crime has gotten worse than ever. Criminal elements sense Government’s apparent weakness and the crime problem is a manifestation of their confidence that they can commit crime and would not be caught, prosecuted or punished.
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