CATHOLIC Archbishop Patrick Pinder, pictured (right) here with Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald, has called for the government to abolish the death penalty. (Photo: Tim Clarke)
By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
ARCHBISHOP Patrick Pinder, of the Catholic Archdiocese, yesterday called for the government to abolish the death penalty and focus instead on offender rehabilitation.
Archbishop Pinder’s remarks came in a joint pastoral statement from the Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) in commemoration of the Catholic Church’s Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. The bishops - 19 of whom are signatories to the document - are urging governments and citizens in the region to abolish capital punishment.
The statement said to take away a person’s “basic right to immunity from fatal harm” is to “compromise his/her sacred dignity”.
It said while a “climate of lawlessness” is prevalent in the Bahamas and the region, capital punishment does not “assist the criminal to reform,” nor does it “assist the victim to restore his or her violated dignity.”
As such, Archbishop Pinder said the Bahamas, as a member of the AEC, along with the AEC’s other regional members, should instead focus on “restorative justice” to bring about true criminal justice reform, which includes addressing the factors that contribute to crime and “strengthening” the capacity of criminal justice systems to address crime and violence.
The last person executed in The Bahamas was David Mitchell in January 2000.
Given the country’s crime woes, many have called for the death penalty to be enforced, in the hope that it would serve as an effective deterrent to criminal activity, particularly for such serious offences as murder.
However, the London-based Privy Council has served as an obstacle to the Bahamas carrying out the death penalty, after ruling in 2006 that the mandatory death sentence for murder was unconstitutional.
“To reject capital punishment is not to make light of the loss of loved ones and the violation of human dignity and rights experienced by victims of crime,” the bishops wrote. “Capital punishment does not assist the criminal to reform, or society to deter. Neither does it assist the victim to restore his or her violated dignity. Only genuine reconciliation can achieve personal satisfaction and restore social order. The process of reconciliation involves conversion, reform, restitution and forgiveness.
“In civil society, penal laws and institutions are necessary because the conditions of reconciliation are not often fully met. But the goal of reconciliation, the restoration of moral order to society, is the purpose of those institutions, and it is the purpose of the Christian practice of forgiveness.”
Archbishop Pinder, along with the other bishops, said the region would be better served addressing the “underlying” causes of criminal activity and to focus on reforming the criminal justice system in their respective countries.
“A restorative justice approach focuses on holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way and helping to achieve a sense of healing for both the victim(s) and the community; it embraces socialisation, rehabilitation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance,” the statement said. “Restorative justice can help us to achieve our goals. It is not a panacea for all social ills, but can be used effectively together with other policies.
“To promote integral human development in our region, we recognise the urgent need for our governments to address the underlying causes of crime and the risk factors that contribute to crime and not only the symptoms of crime. To do so, they must take into consideration the many challenges to human life today, including poverty and social exclusion, human trafficking, the sex trade, including exploitation of women and children, domestic violence, the drug and gun trade.”
In June 2011, the Privy Council overturned Maxo Tido’s death sentence in connection with the killing of 16-year-old Donnell Connover, whose body was found off Cowpen Road, battered and bruised and her skull crushed. There was additional evidence that parts of her body were burned after her death.
But the Privy Council concluded that the murder was not an example of the “worst of the worst.”
In November 2011, Parliament passed legislation to define the types of murder constituting the “worst of the worst” guidelines set out by the London court.
Despite this, Sean McWeeney, QC, chairman of the Constitutional Reform Commission, doubted whether the changes would matter to the Privy Council.
Speaking on the matter in April 2013 in response to a question raised at the commission’s first town hall meeting, Mr McWeeney said “as long as the Privy Council remains your final court of appeal, it is extremely doubtful that you will ever be able to hang anyone.”