The House of Assembly today passed a law which gives authority to the judge who tried a murder case, where the death penalty was imposed, to re-sentence the convicted murderer.
According to Attorney-General Dale Marshall the move will take the responsibility away from the Chief Justice solely, speeding up the process. He was speaking during the debate on the Offences Against the Person (Amendment) Bill.
“It is important that we make sure the re-sentencing is done with all possible despatch and the right thing to do would be for the judge, so long as that judge is available to do it, to do the re-sentencing. In the instance where the judge cannot do it because they have left the Bench, the Chief Justice will do it,” he explained.
The attorney general said that since the CCJ made mandatory sentencing to the death penalty unconstitutional there were a number of inmates sitting at HMP Dodds Prison who were unsure of what their sentence is now.
“This the CCJ decision, by virtue of determining that all sentences of death carried out by the law as it then stood were unconstitutional. It meant therefore sir that none of the death penalties which had been pronounced by our criminal court could stand. That then triggered a need for re-sentencing.”
Marshall continued: “The arrangements that we put in place seemed workable and it was a simple one: the Chief Justice would review the matter and make a determination about the sentence that would be imposed. But that has proven to be impractical.
“Murder cases are long and complex generally and the Chief Justice would not have heard the case at first instance so he would have to go through the sterile exercise of reading the records, reading the testimony of witnesses and so on and then trying to determine for himself what sentence would be appropriate in the case…”
The chief lawmaker said that since September, seven murder trials were now being heard and priority is being given by the DPP and High Court to have murder trials done more swiftly. He said over 70 people are waiting to be tried for murder.
“No re-sentences have been done but it continues to be an injustice to individuals who had been convicted of murder and given the death penalty for them to continue in a state of limbo… because while the death penalty could no longer be imposed there would be an obvious lacuna in that they would not now know what it is they are sentenced to serve,” the AG said.