(Trinidad Guardian) Eighty two death row inmates, whose death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment over 14 years ago, have scored a major legal victory which will see them being resentenced to definite prison terms.
Delivering a 22-page judgment at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain yesterday, Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Appellate Judges Alice Yorke-Soo Hon and Mark Mohammed ruled that High Court judges have a discretion to decide commuted sentences based on the particular circumstances of each case.
Archie, who wrote the judgment, said, “There is no logical reason why the sentence of life imprisonment should be imposed carte blanche upon every person who has their sentence commuted. That is inherently arbitrary and potentially disproportionate.”
He went on: “The circumstances of each murder are different and a court properly seized of the relevant facts would be able to substitute the appropriate sentence.”
Central to the judgement was the court’s analysis of the death penalty case of Matthews, which was decided by the Privy Council in 2004.
In that case, the British Law Lords decided that the death sentence is mandatory and not unconstitutional.
However, the Jamaican case of Pratt and Morgan, which stated that executing persons after they spent five years on death row, is cruel and unusual punishment, still applied.
The 82 inmates had there death sentences commuted to life imprisonment after the Matthews decision as they also benefitted from the Pratt and Morgan ruling.
They complained that the judges were entitled to decide individual sentences based on the circumstances of their cases as opposed to a general sentence for all.
In his judgment Archie said that the court’s power to decide individual commuted sentences was not affected by the Privy Council’s ruling and is permitted under Section 14 of the Constitution. He said it also fell within the international trend of promoting restorative justice.
“In effect, we have kept in place a punishment that does violence to Sections 4 (a) and 5 (2)(b) Constitution, have said that the delay in carrying out executions constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and yet have failed to fully grapple with the obligation to uphold the rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution,” Archie said.
While all 82 had filed legal challenges, the appeal of Naresh Boodram was used as a test case, which would affect the others.
Boodram was convicted in November 1996 (21 years ago) for the murders of of Anthony Greenidge and Stephen Sandy. They were murdered and buried in a shallow grave in a rice field.
While the Appeal Court ruled in Boodram’s favour, it did not immediately re-sentenced him, instead opting to refer his case and the others for determination before High Court judges.
“A re-sentencing court must ascertain whether the punitive element of the sentence has been satisfied and also whether the appellant (Boodram) has been rehabilitated and is safe for reintegration into society.
To ascertain the latter, the court has to be provided with evidence that would answer the question in the affirmative or negative,” Archie said.
Boodram was represented by Mark Seepersad while Pamela Elder, SC, Wayne Sturge, Josefina Baptiste-Mohammed and Sean Julien represented the State.