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Two prominent attorneys and a former high court judge say they do not agree with a suggestion by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan for the the death penalty to be enforced for sexual offences against children. They warned that such a measure will do more harm than good. In an interview with the Sunday Guardian last month, Ramlogan said he has been toying with the idea for several months will approach the Opposition early this year to get their consensus.
He spoke about the matter just weeks after the body of six-year-old Keyanna Cumberbatch was found in a barrel at her Maloney Gardens home. An autopsy showed that the child was struck unconscious and raped. “The first thing I intend to do is raise with the Opposition as part of our ongoing joint anti crime talks to see what position they have on the matter,” Ramlogan said. He said if the PNM supported the idea, the measure could form part of the Constitution Amendment (Capital Offences) Bill.
In 2011, the Opposition refused to give support to an earlier version of the legislation also known as the hanging bill.
“The various natures of crimes against our innocent children have caused me to think that we should consider the introduction of the death penalty for sex crimes against children. It could be a sentencing option that the court or judge will have and he or she can impose it in, appropriate cases, where the facts and circumstances are so extreme that it shocks the conscience of the court in terms of imposing the sentence of death,” said the AG.
“We can leave it as a sentencing option to the judge so that in appropriate cases ... it can be imposed.” Ramlogan explained that if violence was inflicted on a child under age 14 and the circumstances were outrageous, the court should have the option of imposing the death penalty. He said, while there is an ongoing debate on whether punishment of any form—including the death penalty—reduces crime, something has to be done to deter criminal elements.
AG: sex predators should have rights forfeited
“There are arguments that can go both ways. If someone is a beast in human form and stalks our land, then the issue is whether they have forfeited their rights to life,” he said. Ramlogan said an issue to be considered is whether victim of sex crime victims should be entitled to personal retribution in the court. In some countries they have the option of presenting a victim impact statement to the judge.
This gives victims a chance to tell the court what the offence has affected in their life, whether they were required medical or mental health treatment and what they wished to be done at sentencing. He said while the death penalty was proposed for the most heinous crimes “it has never been imposed for anything other than murder, treason, piracy and hijacking”.
Maharaj: It will achieve no purpose
However a former attorney general said before capital punishment is introduced, it should be thoroughly studied. “This is putting the cart before the horse. It will achieve no purpose. I am advising him (Ramlogan) to behave like an attorney general in respect of the law,” said Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. He called on the AG to say whether there has been a study by the Law Commission. If so, he said, it should be made available to the public.
Maharaj warned against introducing legislation merely to promote public emotions or sensationalism and said the fact that the PP Government has not been able to implement the death penalty for murder means that “it is really worthless and of no jurisprudential value for him to talk about the introduction of the death penalty on another offence”. He said Ramlogan was only “courting public emotions hoping to get some support and really that is not the basis for law reform”.
“He is really capitalising on the emotions of the public. It is just PR,” said Maharaj who described Ramlogan’s plans as “arbitrary, irresponsible and un-attorney general like.” If a law is introduced and it cannot be implemented, he said, it would be irresponsible and a waste of resources and time.
Khan: death penalty could do more harm than good
Senior counsel Israel Khan said he would not support the measure. “What will happen is after a child is raped, the criminal would kill the victim so there would be no witnesses. Criminals think a certain way. The death penalty should really be reserved for the most serious offences which are murder or treason,” he said. Khan said it was not possible to legislate for morality because criminals do not believe they will be caught: “So that is why I would not support the death penalty for practical reasons.”
Khan said the Government could not even solve the country’s murders, far less implement another penalty. He said one way of reducing child sex offences was by introducing moral and spiritual values in homes. “Sex offences happen across the board with people who have five bedroom homes and a jacuzzi in a house. It all has to do with twisted minds,” he said
Volney: A waste of parliamentary time
Former high court judge and justice minister Herbert Volney said introducing additional legislation “would not help anything, any government, anybody or any cause.” Instead, the Government should provide the judiciary with more resources, courts and staff. Volney said the law already states that the death penalty is available to anyone who kills a child.
“So there is no need to change the law. What they need to do is to expedite the process in terms of the law. That is where the Government has not come up to mark. This is where they have failed,” he said Volney recalled that several years ago, then Attiorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj was able to hang reputed drug baron Dole Chadee and several of his accomplices.
“I see no reason why Anand Ramlogan, if he wants to implement the death penalty in these cases, can not follow within the book Maharaj followed and just replicate the decisions that were made at that time.” Volney, who served 16 years in the courts, said there was no reason to come up with another death penalty. “It will be a waste of parliamentary time if you ask me.”