By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATTORNEY General Allyson Maynard Gibson is confident appellate courts will uphold the death penalty in accordance with the law despite recent suggestions from the Court of Appeal that capital punishment is over.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson stressed that the death penalty “is still on the books”. Her statement came a week after Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeny, QC, said that because of the Privy Council’s “philosophical opposition” to capital punishment, hangings are unlikely to ever be upheld unless substantial changes are made to this country’s legal and judicial system through constitutional amendments.
He was speaking after Court of Appeal justices said “hanging is over” during back and forth discourse with prosecutors at a hearing last week where they squashed the death sentence of Anthony Clarke Sr, who was convicted last year of a contract killing.
Offering her view on the matter yesterday, Mrs Maynard-Gibson said: “When you review the text, the Court of Appeal did not say that hanging is over. The comments were made as back and forth between the bench and bar and not as part of an official announcement or position on the matter. Therefore it is wrong to say the court has made that determination. The death penalty is on the books. We are aware that we live in a changing world but so long as we feel the matter is one that warrants the death penalty, should the jury and judge agree, we will pursue it.”
When asked for his perspective on the matter yesterday, prominent attorney Wayne Munroe lamented that criticism is levied at the Privy Council on the matter, saying that Bahamian politicians knowingly let the “voiceless” London-based institution take blame for an issue they “can, but do not want” to address.
“The Privy Council tells us that we can do it,” Mr Munroe said, adding: “When I talk about us being the singularly dumbest people, what I mean is we are not reinventing the wheel. Other people are imposing and carrying out the death penalty and the Privy Council is a part of their system.”
Mr Munroe disagreed with Mr McWeeney’s position that constitutional changes should be made to tie the hands of appellate courts by defining what crimes constitute the “worst of the worst” and should therefore be punishable by death.
The solution, he said, is to not allow judges to rely on their judgement about whether the death penalty is merited. Such issues, he said, should be decided upon by a jury.
“When someone is convicted of murder, for instance, you should have a sentencing trial where a judge would direct a jury on whether the offense may be considered the worst of the worst or the convict is beyond redemption,” he said. “When a jury is empanelled, they hear evidence from the prosecution and the convict and come to determination on the death penalty. If they don’t recommend the death penalty or conclude that the crime constitutes the worst of the worst, the person cannot be sentenced to death. But the point is you have a jury say how they arrived at their conclusions and in some jurisdictions, the judge must then sentence the convict to death if the jury reaches that conclusion. No appellant court would set aside a finding in such an instance.”
He added: “The Privy Council has said over and over again, you can execute people. We like every other jurisdiction can carry it out. If parliament has failed to do what is necessary then don’t sit back and blame the Privy Council. But maybe (parliamentarians) don’t want to do what is necessary because they don’t want to meet the children whose parent they executed and have to live with that.”
In 2011, after a ruling from the Privy Council, the Ingraham administration amended the Penal Code to specify the “worst of the worst” murders which would warrant execution.
Mr Munroe blasted the amendment, however, saying: “When the (government) did act, it did so in an inadequate manner. The FNM passed nonsense that they didn’t talk to anybody about. These guys who never saw the insides of a court or consulted the private bar did something that was ineffective.
“No politician who talks about hanging people is serious about it, especially if they accuse the courts about standing in the way,” Mr Munroe contended. “And you don’t have to mess with the Constitution to fix this issue either. Most of what needs to be done can be done by ordinary legislation.”