Tuesday, 18 November 2008
Source: Radio Jamaica
Ahead of the conscience vote in Parliament on the retention of the death penalty, the Independent Jamaica Council on Human Rights (IJCHR) is already objecting to a proposed constitutional amendment which could make it easier to carry out the death penalty.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Jamaica's highest court of appeal, held in the case of Pratt and Morgan v. Attorney General of Jamaica that holding a convicted man on death row for more than five years violated the constitutional prohibition against inhuman or degrading punishment, and that all death sentences should be commuted to life imprisonment.
The former PNP government had contended that it was not possible to carry out all the appeal processes involved in death sentence matters within five years.
Since then, Barbados has amended its constitution to state that a delay in carrying out the death penalty does not amount to cruel and inhuman punishment.
The Opposition in Jamaica has insisted that unless Jamaica enacts a similar provision, the country will not be able to resume hanging, regardless of the outcome of the conscience vote.
The government has agreed to an amendment. With Parliament expected to resume its debate on the matter Tuesday afternoon, the IJCHR says it is opposed to any such constitutional change.
The IJCHR says such a move would dishonour fundamental human rights provisions that the constitution aids in securing. According to Nancy Anderson, Legal Officer for the IJCHR, such an amendment would be a breach of law and Jamaica's international obligations."The proposed amendment would deprive every court, whether a court in Jamaica, Caribbean Court of Justice or the Privy Council of its essential right to enquire into and decide whether a condemned person is being treated fairly in relation to the manner in which the death penalty is being imposed or executed."
Ms Andersons claims that the amendment would conflict with the rule of law and the principles of the constitution of Jamaica.
"This is not only unprincipled, but a dangerous precedent for the executive and the legislature to override judicial decisions which express fundamental principles of the constitution."
Constitutional rights at risk
According to Ms. Anderson, greater emphasis should be placed on making judicial systems more efficient, instead of meddling with the constitution."
We've noticed that there's been considerable attention based on the five year limit as set in the Pratt and Morgan case ... without admitting that the major cause of the delay relates to the inefficiencies of Jamaica's justice system."She is contending that there is no justification for such far-reaching constitutional changes instead of taking the necessary measures to eliminate delays and efficiencies.
"If such important constitutional changes can be made in such circumstances then all our constitutional rights are at great risk."
While addressing party supporters at the party's annual conference on Sunday, Prime Minister Bruce Golding reiterated that the Government would push towards a change in the five year limit for people on death row if the conscience vote rules in favour of retaining the death penalty.