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A Caribbean Court 'May Take Same Death Penalty View As Privy Council'

By RUPERT MISSICK Jr

ADOPTING the Caribbean Court of Justice as the Bahamas’ final court of appeal in order to circumvent the Privy Council’s seeming bias against the death penalty is missing “the larger picture”, the Constitutional Commission said in its report.

The commission pointed out that the Privy Council has been at the forefront of the enforcement of fundamental rights in the Caribbean and has historically gone where local courts have usually been reluctant to take the lead.

One of the major arguments for abolishing the Privy Council has been that the court seems to some to have taken an activist position with regard to the enforcement of the death penalty which still remains on the books of a number of English speaking Caribbean Nations including the Bahamas.

The last person who was to be executed in the Bahamas was David Mitchell in January 2000. Mitchell was to die on the same day as John Higgs, who was convicted of the murder of his wife Joan Butler.

However, Mitchell committed suicide the day before.

As of August 2012 only one convict in Her Majesty’s Prison, Mario Flowers, found guilty of the 2007 murder of Constable Ramos WIlliams, is under sentence of death.

During he steady climb of the Bahamas’ murder rate over the past four years, many have argued that there is a desperate need for the death penalty to be carried out, because, they argue, it would act as a deterrent.

However, 2012’s murder statistics may prove that the number of murders in the Bahamas can be reduced without using the gallows. Recorded murders dropped last year by 13 per cent from 127 in 2011 to 111 in 2012.

All things being equal, the same is expected to happen this year. There has been a 14 per cent drop in murders over this same period in 2012, according to the figures released.

Regardless, proponents who believe that the Bahamas’ adoption of the CCJ would allow the country to carry out capital penalties may find themselves disappointed.

The region has simply not seen a surge in executions since the court’s implementation despite the concerns of many opponents of capital punishment.

The last execution to have taken place in the region was in 2008 in St Kitts and Nevis and this was after five years of no state sanctioned executions in the Caribbean as a whole and eight in the English speaking Caribbean.

The commission says in its report that “West Indian societies are not homogenous” and there is a very real possibility that a Caribbean court may take the same view toward capital punishment as the Privy Council has in recent years.

In addition to the aversion to the Privy Council’s position on the death penalty, proponents of the CCJ argue that the court’s apparent or implicit knowledge of Caribbean culture and society would be more advantageous to the Bahamas.

However, the Commission said the CCJ would not eliminate whatever concerns there are about the “foreignness” of the Privy Council because English judges would simply be replaced by West Indian judges who are also foreign and not necessarily fully knowledgeable about Bahamian society.

“In reality, London is not much further away from Nassau than Port-of-Spain,” the commission said.

The commission said it is prudent for the Bahamian government to “shadow the court by supporting it financially and hence keep a foot in the door.”

“In any event, the commission is of the view that to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ is a decision that ultimately lies in the hands of the Bahamian people, as this would require a referendum to take effect,” the commission said.

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