August 04, 2010

EVERYDAY LAW – Prerogative of mercy - Print Version

By: Cecil McCarthy

Source: Nation News

Published: August 4, 2010

IN LAST week’s article I discussed the doctrine of legitimate expectation as applied by the Caribbean Court of Justice in the case of Attorney General and others v Jeffrey Joseph and Lennox Boyce (“Joseph and Boyce”).

I will be returning to the subject of legitimate expectation in future articles.

However, in today’s column I wish to discuss the other significant issue that arose for determination in Joseph and Boyce; that issue is whether the prerogative of mercy by the Barbados Privy Council was subject to judicial review having regard to section 77(4) of the Barbados Constitution which provides as follows:

“The question whether the Privy Council has validly performed any function vested in it by the Constitution shall not be inquired into by any court.”

Charged jointly

In Joseph and Boyce, the facts were that Joseph and Boyce and two other men were charged jointly with the murder of a young man who was beaten to death. The four accused were given the option of pleading guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

The other accused opted to plead guilty of manslaughter. Joseph and Boyce refused this offer and stood trial for murder, and were both convicted and sentenced to death. Their appeals to the Court of Appeal and the Privy Council were dismissed.

They petitioned the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, alleging that Barbados violated its obligations under the American Convention of Human Rights.

Soon after the petitions were filed, the Barbados Privy Council (the body charged with the responsibility of advising the Governor General on the exercise of the prerogative of mercy) confirmed a previous decision not to recommend commutation of their sentence.

As a result, death warrants were read to Joseph and Boyce who then began proceedings alleging that the threatened execution was in contravention of their constitutional rights.

The CCJ held unanimously that the exercise of the prerogative of mercy was reviewable notwithstanding Section 77(4) of the Constitution referred to above.

One of the bases for review of the prerogative of mercy was procedural unfairness, which in the court’s view, was established in the case of Joseph and Boyce.

In the Third Edition of his book Commonwealth Caribbean Public Law, Professor Albert Fiadjoe of the University of the West Indies commented on the CCJ’s decision in respect of the reviewability of the prerogative of mercy in the following terms:

“This decision thus puts the nail in the argument which prevailed in 1966 when the Barbados Constitution became law – namely, that the exercise of the prerogative of mercy was not judicially reviewable, and that ousting the jurisdiction of the court could be valid.

“Thus, the Constitution would have been premised on the orthodox view that there was no possibility of the court’s powers under section 24 being applicable to any exercise of the prerogative of mercy, which was the exclusive preserve of the Governor General acting as directed by the Barbados Privy Council.

“But the court now says as did the Privy Council in Neville Lewis that, in the light of modern developments, the exercise of the prerogative of mercy is judicially reviewable and is not ousted by Section 77(4).”

Section 77(4) is an example of what is referred to as an “ouster clause”, a clause which seeks to exclude the court from reviewing the exercise of some power by a state body or official.

The response of the CCJ was that it will not be deterred, like previous decisions of the courts, by the presence of such a clause from inquiring into whether a body has performed its function in breach of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and in particular the right to procedural fairness.

The decision of the CCJ is very important for “death penalty jurisprudence”. It gives a condemned man another lifeline, which can be of great significance when one considers the strict five-year time-line that has been established by the decision in Pratt and Morgan.

•Cecil McCarthy is a Queen’s Counsel. Send your letters to: Everyday Law, The Nation, Fontabelle, St Michael. Send your email to

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