The Barbados Government’s decision to move towards scrapping the mandatory death penalty in cases of murder has been lauded by most Senators who spoke on the topic when the Upper House met on Thursday.
Independent Senator, Lindell Nurse, said the Offences against the Person Amendment Bill 2018 might have been a bit late in coming, but it was inevitable.
“The Inter-American Human Rights Court ruling happened as early as 2004 and then there was the recent Caribbean Court of Justice ruling on the matter, but in all fairness we have been moving in that direction for a long time. We have not executed anyone in over 30 years. We have seen death sentences commuted to life imprisonment, and when cases came before the court, they were changed to manslaughter to avoid the mandatory death penalty.”
Deputy President of the Senate Rudolph Greenidge said he was a passionate supporter of the death penalty. One of his uncles was murdered “because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time” and the perpetrator only served seven years in prison. However, Greenidge acknowledged that in some instances it was a bit too harsh, for example, in cases where accomplices “did not play a direct role in the killing, but either helped the accused bury the body or drove the getaway car also got the death sentence”.
He said there were some instances where murder did not attract the death penalty, for example “crimes of passion” and cases of self defence, and the amendment would help us to “meet those who oppose the death penalty half-way”.
Senator Greenidge admitted there were some areas where the death penalty should be seriously considered, such as hate crimes based on race, religion or sexual preference or attempts to kill witnesses or jurors involved in a trial.
Senator Rommell Springer said, “If we are honest with ourselves, all of us may be just one bad decision away from facing such a penalty and I feel that we need to get away from the idea that we have to kill someone because they committed a particular crime. This new system will bring a level of fairness to the judicial process.”
Senator Kevin Boyce said in his interactions with people on death row in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and the United States, “They often express regret for what they have done, and all too often we sit in our judgment seat and condemn them without fully understanding what drove them to it. This amendment gives judges the discretion to determine the appropriate punishment based on all the circumstances surrounding the particular case.”
Senator Nurse said instead of putting all that pressure on a judge, “As part of the overall rethinking of our laws, perhaps we could go the way of the United States where you have the initial trial and then another phase where the jury is involved in the signing of that sentence.”