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State wants mandatory death sentence

AG Jeremie takes on Privy Council

By Francis Joseph, Newsday TT

Three Caribbean states are to go to the Privy Council because they want the mandatory death sentence for murder to return. Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Jamaica are to make representations in three separate cases listed for Privy Council on March 22 next year.

The Law Lords have set aside four days for the hearing. Instead of the normal five-member panel, seven judges will sit on this appeal. It is not very often that seven Lords sit together. It was done in 1993 when the Pratt and Morgan case upset the law in the Commonwealth. The seven Lords ruled that convicted killers who have spent more than five years on Death Row could not be executed. The seven Lords sat in that case to overrule their own decision in Riley v the Queen (1983), another Jamaican case. The decision by the Law Lords to hear more arguments on the death penalty followed a visit to the Privy Council recently by Barbados' Attorney General Mia Mottley. At that hearing, the Law Lords asked that representation be made by TT, Barbados and Jamaica at a joint hearing.

In March 2004, Trinidad and Tobago will defend the appeal on a constitutional motion filed by convicted wife-killer Charles Matthews. The Barbados government will defend the appeal brought by killer Lambert Watson, while Jamaica will have their chance also. Matthews, now 61, formerly of Arima, was sentenced to death by Justice Carlton Best in the Port-of-Spain Assizes on December 3, 1999 for the murder of his estranged common-law wife Louise Gittens at OIton Road, Arima, on December 19, 1994. He appealed but the Court of Appeal comprising the then Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide, Justice Roger Hamel-Smith, and Madame Justice Margot Warner, dismissed the appeal on December 1, 2000.

Matthews appealed to the Privy Council, but lost. He filed a constitutional motion which is now before the Judicial Committee. The court heard that Matthews, armed with a home-made shotgun, entered Gittens' home and showed her a cartridge, and told her "this one is for you." He took out two other cartridges before killing the woman. If Matthews loses this appeal, the State can go ahead and execute him as he would have exhausted all appeals. AG Jeremie, who holds a Masters in Law Degree, is expected to lead the State's team in his matter in London. Following the decision to extend arguments to the Law Lords on the death penalty, the Attorney General stated: "We welcome the opportunity to present our arguments before the larger Board of the Privy Council. The Roodal decision is far too important in terms of its potential consequences for us not to make absolutely certain that the Privy Council has fully considered all of the relevant matters in arriving at its decision. "While the Government adheres to the rule of law, we are also committed to the principle that the law should be certain and logical in its application," AG Jeremie added.

The Government wants the mandatory death sentence to return. For the time being, the Government does not plan to get its wish through legislation in Parliament. Trinidad and Tobago is seeking to convince the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to reverse its own decision in the Balkissoon Roodal case, in which the mandatory death sentence was deemed unconstitutional. On November 20, the British Privy Council ruled that the mandatory death sentence no longer applies and the fate of convicted murderers lies in the hands of the trial judge. It has already had an impact on the judicial system in TT. Because of the rippling effect this decision will have on the judicial system, Attorney General John Jeremie and his counterparts in Jamaica and Barbados, have convinced the Law Lords to look again at the death penalty.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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