November 12, 2008

Opposition ties Privy Council issue to death penalty vote

Hanging knot - Opposition ties Privy Council issue to death penalty vote
Source: Jamaica Observer
Publication date: November 12, 2008

The Opposition will today seek to push its long held position for Jamaica to discontinue appeals to the United Kingdom Privy Council when legislators meet to take a conscience vote on capital punishment in the House of Representatives.

Opposition MP Robert Pickersgill signalled his side's intention when he told the House yesterday during the opening of the debate that the Opposition would propose an amendment to the Constitution that could, if accepted, make the Governor General's Privy Council the island's final appeal court.

The change, Pickersgill said, would ask that the "Constitution of Jamaica be amended to remove the five-year stricture in relation to the carrying out of the death penalty after conviction, and also that the rulings of the Governor General's Privy Council concerning the prerogative of mercy cannot be inquired into in a court of law".

The proposed amendment will likely trigger heated debate, as the Government has not changed its position that voters should decide whether to discard the UK Privy Council for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

In June 2003, Jamaica formally signed on to the CCJ, which has been mired in political controversy since it was first proposed.

However, in February 2005, the UK Privy Council, on a case mounted by the then Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and civil society groups, ruled as unconstitutional, the route taken by the Jamaican Government to establish the CCJ as its final court.

The law lords held that while the Government could end appeals to the UK-based court by a simple parliamentary majority, special procedures were required to entrench the CCJ as a court superior to the Jamaica Court of Appeal.

The implication is that establishment of the CCJ as Jamaica's final court will require either a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament and/or the winning vote in a referendum.

Yesterday, the Government, now formed by the JLP, pointed to the issue, saying that the Opposition's proposed amendment appeared to be an attempt to replace the Privy Council as the country's final court of appeal. But Pickersgill suggested that this would be the basis on which the Opposition will vote today.

"The Opposition contends that this motion before us as worded and tabled really represents a treading of water: it takes us nowhere," Pickersgill said.He said that, unless some specific undertaking is given by the Government, in this Parliament, as to what it intends to do in the event of a vote for the retention of the death penalty, it did not make any sense to continue with the debate."This debate and conscience vote would amount to nothing more than a grand public relations attempt signifying nothing," he said. "The way they are going, the Privy Council is going to find an excuse. The goal post is shifting."

Prime Minister Bruce Golding said that the Government did not accept that it was impossible to complete all the necessary processes leading up to the punishment within five years."Therefore, we do not accept that the only way that capital punishment can be imposed is by going the Barbados route to avoid the Pratt and Morgan strictures," Golding said, referring to the Privy Council ruling that prohibits persons being put to death if they have been on death row for more than five years."There is no person on death row now who has exhausted his right of appeal. Of the eight of them on death row, every one of them still has time to go," Golding said. He said that the Government is introducing technology to speed up the process.

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