Alternatives to the Mandatory Death Penalty: Examples from Caribbean Countries

Jamaica, Belize, Saint Lucia, and Saint Kitts and Nevis have all abolished the mandatory death penalty for murder. In these countries, alternative sentences for those convicted of murder have therefore been adopted.

An overview of the status of the death rows in these countries demonstrates the much reduced use of the death sentence as a sentence for murder. Amnesty International (2016) reported that in 2015, in Jamaica and in Belize, there were no prisoners on death row for the first time. The death sentences of the last condemned prisoners had been commuted through the year. Meanwhile, in Saint Lucia there were also no prisoners on death row. Although no new death sentences were imposed in Saint Kitts and Nevis, one man remained under sentence of death at the end of 2015.

In Jamaica the Privy Council struck down the mandatory death penalty in 2004 in the case of Lambert Watson v The Queen ([2005] 1 AC 400). The mandatory death penalty had existed for the most serious types of murder only. Jamaica has since enacted legislation (the amended Offences Against the Person Act), which allows the death penalty as a sentence for aggravated murders, and in all other cases imposes a life sentence of varying minimum degrees of duration, either 10, 15 or 20 years, depending on the circumstances of the crime.

In Belize, Saint Lucia, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, the mandatory death penalty was struck down in the cases of Reyes v The Queen ([2002] 2 AC 235), The Queen v Hughes ([2002] 2 AC 259) and Fox v The Queen ([2002] 2 AC 284).

In Belize, the Privy Council struck down the mandatory death penalty for ‘Class A’ murder. Although the Criminal Code has not since been updated, Death Penalty Worldwide reference a case reported post-Reyes, Pipersburgh v The Queen ([2007] UKPC 11), in which mitigating factors were presented at the sentencing stage following conviction for a ‘Class A’ murder. From Belize also, a case is currently pending before the Caribbean Court of Justice, Gregory August v The Queen, which will examine whether the life imprisonment without possibility of parole of Gregory August is constitutional.

In Saint Lucia, the revised Criminal Code holds at section 86 that ‘A person convicted of capital murder… may on conviction on indictment, be sentenced to death’. However, this section also states: ‘Notwithstanding [this section]… a person convicted of capital murder shall be given an opportunity by the Court to plead in mitigation of sentence’, and the Court shall take into account the gravity and nature of the offences, the character and record of the offender, subjective factors which may have influenced offender’s conduct, how the offence was designed and executed, and the possibility for reform.

Under section 87, an offender guilty of non-capital murder is generally sentenced to imprisonment for life.

The Criminal Code of Saint Lucia also includes guidelines on how parole should operate. One function of the Parole Board, at section 1138, is to review the cases of prisoners serving life sentences or prisoners in respect of whom a sentence of death has been commuted to life imprisonment. The Parole Board subsequently makes recommendations to the Minister. These categories of prisoner are eligible for parole after a period of 15 years has been served.

In Saint Kitts and Nevis following the striking down of the mandatory death penalty, the death penalty was to be reserved for the most serious cases of aggravated murder, although there is little guidance on what this constitutes. A submission for the Universal Period Review by Advocates for Human Rights, Greater Caribbean for Life, and The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (2015) outlined that sentence of death would only be passed in cases of the ‘worst of the worst’, citing case law from the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

In can be seen therefore, that in other Caribbean countries the abolition of the mandatory death penalty for murder has typically been followed by: a discretionary death penalty for murders that are the ‘worst of the worst’, a system of life sentencing which allows for review, and the establishment of independent parole boards which review life sentences after minimum periods.

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