(CMR) The Privy Council has ruled that the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago is not unconstitutional and that changing that law was in the hands of the country's parliament.
According to the BBC, nine of the UK's most senior judges refused to ban the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago after lawyers for convicted murderer Jay Chandler argued that the mandatory death penalty he received under the 1925 law was unconstitutional.
A death sentence is a mandatory punishment for every person convicted of murder under Trinidad and Tobago's Offences Against The Person Act 1925.
The judges reportedly expressed concerns but said the nation's constitution meant they could not intervene.
Chandler's lawyers argued at the hearing in London last November that the wording of Trinidad and Tobago's constitution meant that a mandatory death penalty should be ruled to be a cruel and unusual punishment – and therefore banned.
After Trinidad and Tobago became independent in 1962, its constitution stated that any existing law from the days of the British Empire would remain in force unless its parliament decided to remove or reform it.
Senior Privy Council judge Lord Hodge said, “The 1976 Constitution saves existing laws, including the mandatory death penalty, from constitutional challenge.”
“The consequence of that is that the state of Trinidad and Tobago has a statutory rule which mandates the position of a sentence, which will often be disproportionate and unjust. The sentence is recognized internationally as cruel and unusual punishment. The state does not dispute that characterization,” he added.
He said that despite those concerns, the judges in London could not legitimately interfere as there was no constitutional law question for them to settle.
“It is striking that there remains on the statute book a provision which, as the government accepts, is a cruel and unusual punishment because it mandates the death penalty without regard to the degree of culpability,” he said.
“Nonetheless, such a provision is not unconstitutional. The 1976 Constitution has allocated to parliament, as the democratic organ of government, the task of reforming and updating the law, including such laws,” Lord Hodge stated.
Forty-five people are reportedly on death row in Trinidad and Tobago; however, no one has been sent to the gallows since 1999 due to delays caused by appeals. With the ruling, in this case, persons are now curious to know how the government will proceed.
Parvais Jabbar has urged the country's parliament to re-examine the continued existence of historical laws that are out of step with the modern world.
He said: “Trinidad and Tobago remain the only country in the Commonwealth Caribbean to continue using a mandatory death penalty, and it is imperative that the government now take the necessary measures to ensure that a punishment that they themselves accept to be cruel and inhuman, is removed.”