As an academic who teaches criminal law and who writes on the death penalty debate in the English-Speaking Caribbean [hereinafter the ESC], I have been pleased to learn that there have been no hangings, the form of execution sanctioned by the governments of the ESC nations, since 2008. I was even more pleased to have recently read Amnesty International’s report concerning that there were no hangings in 2013 and that there are now fewer inmates on death row in the ESC.
Despite higher murder rates in some ESC countries such as the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago there has been no great “hue and cry” for more executions, but, instead there have been calls on authorities to strengthen the capacity of police to detect and prevent murders. There were 15 new death sentences imposed in 2013 in the ESC. There were two such sentences in the Bahamas, two in Barbados, at least six in Guyana, and at least five in Trinidad and Tobago. This was not a significant increase from 2012 when at least 12 new death sentences were recorded. There were no executions carried out or death sentences imposed in Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Guatemala, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname. As of December 31, 2012, no one was known to be on death row in Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Guatemala, St. Lucia, and Suriname. Also, no death sentences were recorded in Antigua and Barbuda.
Amnesty International reports further that two new death sentences were recorded in Barbados. A total of eight men were reported to be on death row there in December 2013. The last person on death row in Grenada had his sentence commuted to life in prison in 2013. No new death sentences were imposed and no one was under sentence of death at the end of the year. At least six people were sentenced to death and at least 25 were on death row at the end of 2013. Eleven men in Guyana had their death sentences commuted to life in prison during the year.
No new death sentences were known to have been imposed in Jamaica in 2013. Two men there remained under sentence of death at the end of the year, while three people had their death sentences commuted. No new death sentences were known to have been imposed in St. Kitts and Nevis, while one person was believed to be on death row at the end of the year 2013. The last remaining person on death row in St. Lucia, Mitchel Joseph, had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment on July 8, 2013. No new death sentences were known to be have been imposed.
No new death sentences were recorded in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where one person, Patrick Lovelace, remained on death row at the end of the year 2013. At least five new death sentences were imposed in Trinidad and Tobago and at least 39 prisoners were known to be on death row at the end of the year. Two death sentences were commuted to terms of life imprisonment and the mandatory imposition of the death penalty was retained by national legislation.
This is a good trend, fewer people on death row and more commutation of death sentences to life imprisonment. Much of this is a result of the fact that most of the twelve ESC nations still retain the Privy Council in London, the judicial wing of the House of Lords, as their court of final appeal. The Privy Council ruled in 1993 that the gap between sentence and the execution cannot be longer than five years and successive appeals usually take longer. If there is no execution of the prisoner within five years of the sentence, the prisoner will have his sentence commuted to life in prison.
So we are seeing fewer hangings in the ESC; let us hope that this barbaric practice will soon end altogether with an absolute abolition of the death penalty in the ESC.