Death penalty stays, Privy Council rules

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo: Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein

The death penalty stays.

On Monday, the Privy Council held that Parliament had the power to impose the sentence, despite its being considered internationally as cruel and unusual punishment.

This country did not, however, escape the reproval of the Law Lords, who noted that it was “striking” that such a provision remained on the statute books “a provision which, as the government accepts is a cruel and unusual punishment because it mandates the death penalty without regard to the degree of culpability.

“Nonetheless, such a provision is not unconstitutional.”

The Privy Council was asked to rule on the mandatory nature of the death penalty as the only punishment for murder in light of a 2018 ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that the mandatory death penalty in Barbados violated the rights protected under its constitution.

Bringing the challenge was convicted killer Jay Chandler, who was sentenced to death in August 2011. His sentence has since been commuted to life imprisonment.

Integral to the State’s defence of the retention of the death penalty was the “saving law” argument that the 1976 Constitution preserved the mandatory death penalty.

The State’s legal team, led by Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, argued the death penalty was protected from challenge by the savings clause, which insulates colonial legislation from review except by Parliament.

“The 1976 Constitution has allocated to Parliament, as the democratic organ of government, the task of reforming and updating the law, including such laws,” the Privy Council said on Monday.

Chandler was represented by a team of attorneys led by Edward Fitzgerald, QC, Douglas Mendes, Rajiv Persad and Amanda Clift-Matthews.

Also sharing the lead for the State was Howard Stevens, QC, who was assisted by Tom Poole, QC, and Hannah Fry.