Last update: 08-Dec-2013 11:57 pm
Monday, December 09, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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De la Bastide: State can carry out death penalty
Former Caribbean Court of Justice president Michael de la Bastide says as far as he is concerned, there is nothing to prevent the State from carrying out the death penalty, provided it is done within five years of the accused being sentenced. He said over the last 20 years or so people convicted of murder were able to string out appeals and applications to international bodies and the Privy Council so the five years run out while their proceedings are pending.
De la Bastide, former T&T chief justice, was responding to questions from the Guardian on the ongoing controversy over the death penalty. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, during a visit to crime hot spot Duncan Street recently, said the Government is looking at taking the death penalty legislation back to Parliament. She said recently the death penalty issue would have been among the top of the list in talks with the Opposition on Thursday.
The PM said the murder rate continues to be very high and noted that, according to a poll, the majority of citizens appeared to be in favour of the death penalty. The Opposition, while supporting the death penalty, is of the view the existing legislation is good enough, that there is no need to fix it to hang people. Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said last Monday the PNM informed the Government of its commitment to uphold the law.
“But the Government must do all the administrative things to comply with the guidelines set by the Privy Council.” Rowley said the Opposition is awaiting the proposal of the Government on the matter but will not be encouraged to make bad law. He insisted capital punishment can’t be done with proper policing and said there are only three people on Death Row. He said they have rights which can further delay the capital punishment process.
De la Bastide said it seems that evidence on which to convict people of murder is seldom forthcoming. “Many times, witnesses are afraid, and not without good reason.” De la Bastide said even juries seem to lean towards convicting of manslaughter rather than murder, even when the facts do not justify it. “You do not see many convictions of murder these days.”
He said the prosecution is sometimes fearful witnesses may not come forward and accept a manslaughter plea, to get a conviction of one sort or another, even when the facts do not support it. Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, under whose term druglord Dole Chadee and eight others were hanged over a four-day period in 1999, said it was a national joke for the Government to say hanging would be a deterrent to crime.
Maharaj’s main bone of contention was that the detection and conviction rates of crime were too low and there may not be enough people to hang to send a message to criminals. Citing police statistics, he said up to August 22, 2013, there were 250 murders but only 18 people were charged. “In order to carry out the death penalty, you need to have persons charged and convicted. The statistics show people are not charged and convicted for 99 per cent of the murders that occur.”
The rate of detection in everyday crime that affects the average citizen is also dismally low. “There were 1,649 robberies for the same period but only 193 were charged. There were 1,551 burglaries and break-ins and only 122 were charged.” Maharaj said Attorney General Anand Ramlogan can carry out the death penalty without any new law using administrative efficiency. “The Prime Minister and the Attorney General, as senior counsel, should not mislead the population. They are presumed to know the law.”
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