A landmark death penalty ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice

Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes the Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ) first death penalty ruling given on November 8, 2006, which dismisses an appeal by the Barbados government seeking to restore execution orders for two convicted murderers. The case was largely perceived as a test of the new court’s position on the death penalty. The CCJ is the supreme judicial organ in the Caribbean Community and replaces the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council since April 2005.

In 2001, Lennox Boyce and Jeffery Joseph were sentenced to death by hanging for a murder which took place in April 1999. Their execution was scheduled for June 2002, but was stayed by the Privy Council, highest appellate body in Barbados at that time, pending further appeals. In 2004, the two men appealed against their sentences to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In 2005, their death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Barbados Court of Appeal, because it considered that Boyce’s and Joseph’s appeals to the IACHR could not realistically be completed within the five year time limit stipulated by the Privy Council. It was held that they would be on death row for an inhumanely long time, uncertain about their fate, whilst they waited for their cases to be heard by the IACHR.

The Barbados government had asked the CCJ to overturn the Privy Council’s precedent which requires that execution takes place within five years of conviction. But the CCJ considered that Privy Council’s decisions continue to be binding in Barbados until and unless they are overruled by the CCJ itself - which has not been the case at present.

It added that the Court of Appeal of Barbados was bound to follow the decisions of the Privy Council which established that the State is under a duty to delay execution pending the outcome of the process initiated before international human rights bodies.

“Executions have not been carried out in Barbados since 1984”, said Sidiki Kaba, President of the FIDH. “By resuming executions, Barbados would go against the general tendency towards abolition worldwide. Barbados is hosting the EU/ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly tomorrow. The spotlight will be on Barbados, and it would be an excellent occasion, after this important ruling, to promote a public debate on the issue and to adopt a de lege moratorium on executions, as a first step towards abolition”, he concluded.

Regardless of the seriousness of the crime, FIDH is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. Its dissuasive power has never been demonstrated and it is a punishment that is contrary to the idea of human dignity and to the right to life.

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