A senior Trinidadian attorney today argued strongly for the removal of the mandatory death penalty from the statute books of Barbados, deeming it to be “unconstitutional”.
Appearing before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on behalf of two condemned men, senior counsel Douglas Mendez therefore called on the CCJ to exercise the power vested in it as the island’s final court of appeal to make it amend the relevant portions of the Offences Against the Persons Act to conform with Section 11 of the Barbados Constitution which he said prohibits arbitrary laws.
“There isn’t any result to come out of the criminal justice system worse than being punished in excess of your wrongdoing. You can’t by some form of osmosis provide protection that is accorded to one section of the Constitution that the Constitution doesn’t say extends to other sections and that is what we are relying on,” he said.
His comments came on Day 2 of hearings into the appeal brought on behalf of Dwayne Omar Severin who was
sentenced to death for the November 30, 2009 killing of Virgil Barton near his home at Lucas Street, St Philip, and Jabari Sensimania Nervais who was handed the same sentence
for the November 17, 2006 shooting death of former Perseverance Drive, Jackson, St Michael resident Jason Ricardo Burton.
Both men, who have exhausted all domestic grounds for appeal, are making a last ditch effort to have their cases overturned by the CCJ, which is the court of last resorts.
While arguing that the mandatory death penalty is in violation of the island’s international obligations, Mendez, who along with Barbadian Andrew Pilgrim, QC, is representing the condemned men, complained today to the seven-member panel, led by Sir Dennis Byron, that the political directorate appeared to be lacking the will to do so.
“If the legislature wishes to put the mandatory death penalty back on the statute books then they have to do their job. They have to account to the electorate for what they do. They can’t hide, which is what, unfortunately has been happening with the death penalty, and the mandatory death penalty in particular,” Mendez said, while strongly lamenting that “politicians play games”.
“Everybody talks about the death penalty, about carrying it out, then they don’t do it because it goes good with the electorate,” he said.
In response, Principal Crown Counsel Anthony Blackman informed the regional court that the bill to abolish the mandatory death penalty had reached the second reading stage in Parliament.
However, he could not explain why it had not been given final approval.
“Why it is taking so long? We cannot assist this honourable court with the reason why it is taking so long. What we would try to assist this honourable court with, is to remind this honourable court that, based on the Constitution of Barbados, a two-thirds majority is needed for this to pass,” Blackman said.
It was at this point that one of the judges queried why a two-thirds majority was required, suggesting when a “simple majority” would suffice.
However, when asked what was Government’s policy on the mandatory death penalty, Blackman could not provide a credible answer.
“We are unable to assist the court in relation to any policy statement or any definitive policy direction as it relates to that aspect. So I must apologize to this honourable court for not being in a position to give you that information,” he said.
It is now left to the CCJ to issue its decision on the matter.