ONE of the country’s top judges has called for an end to the confusion surrounding the imposition of the death penalty.
Amid escalating crime and growing calls for capital punishment, Court of Appeal President Justice Anita Allen said the precise meaning of the death penalty test imposed by the London-based Privy Council must be made clear.
“We’ve considered these decisions, listened to and appreciate the concerns of the public and what the Constitutional Commission has recommended. I suggest that the time has come to bring clarity to the dispensation of justice in these cases,” Justice Allen said.
Speaking to politicians and members of the judiciary yesterday during the annual special sitting of the Court of Appeal, she noted that a 2006 Privy Council decision outlawed the mandatory death sentence for murderers then on the books, and made capital punishment discretionary.
But, Justice Allen said, the high court’s definition of a capital case as the “worst of the worst or the rarest of the rare” has caused “consternation in the ranks of legal scholars and the general public at large.”
“The test,” she said, “even appears to confound judicial thinking as (Privy Council member) Lord Kerr himself admitted in the case of Maxo Tido, when he said that the epithet ‘worst of the worst and rarest of the rare’ gave rise to conceptual difficulty as to which cases qualify for the death penalty.”
Responding to calls for the Privy Council to be replaced by the Caribbean Court of Justice, the government-appointed Constitutional Commission warned last year that this move would not necessarily lead to a different stance on capital punishment, or eliminate concerns about “foreignness”.
“In reality, London is not much further away from Nassau than Port-of-Spain (Trinidad),” the commission said.
Justice Allen’s call for clarity comes on the heels of anti-crime activist Rodney Moncur’s claim that his upcoming march to “remove impediments to capital punishment” will attract thousands of participants.
“The society is tired of the number of murders and mayhem which are taking place in the Bahamas and we believe these murders can be reduced through swift justice,” said Mr Moncur.
“We are marching once again to bring pressure on the Parliament of the Bahamas to remove all of the impediments which prevent persons charged with murder from getting bail and to move all of the impediments which prevent murderers from being executed.”
The last person executed in the Bahamas was David Mitchell in January 2000.
He was convicted of stabbing two German tourists to death.
Mitchell’s execution was controversial because it was carried out while he had an appeal pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
International criticism of the move was followed by a moratorium on capital punishment which lasted until the Privy Council’s 2006 decision in the case of Maxo Tido.