The United Kingdom-based Privy Council has reserved its decision in an appeal seeking to overturn the decision of the local Court of Appeal to rule that automatic life sentences given to murder convicts, who cannot be executed due to delays in their appeals, were unconstitutional.
Lords Lloyd-James, Sales, Hamblen, Stephens and Sir Tim Holroyde reserved their decision after hearing extensive submissions from attorneys representing the State and convicted murderer Naresh Boodram between Tuesday and yesterday.
The appeal centres around the Privy Council’s well-known 1994 ruling in the Jamaican case of Pratt and Morgan, in which it ruled that the mandatory death penalty for murder would be cruel and inhumane punishment if it was not be carried out within five years of conviction.
The lawsuit was brought by Boodram on behalf of 82 prisoners, who like him had their mandatory death penalty commuted to life imprisonment following the legal precedent set almost three decades ago.
In the appeal, the State is claiming that Chief Justice Ivor Archie and two Appeal Court Judges got it wrong in 2018 when they ruled that High Court Judges have the discretion to decide commuted sentences based on the particular circumstances of each case.
Presenting additional submissions in the appeal yesterday, Boodram’s lawyer Mark Seepersad rejected the State’s contention that Boodram and the others had an alternate remedy as they could apply to the Mercy Committee for the President to use his/her power of pardon under the Constitution.
Seepersad noted that there was no set policy on accessing Presidential pardons as in the past such only took place occasionally to coincide with major Independence Day celebrations.
Presenting submissions on Tuesday, Seepersad claimed that when the Privy Council applied the life sentence in the Pratt and Morgan case, it never intended for it to apply to all subsequent cases, which benefited from the legal precedent set.
He noted that while the life sentence was blanketly applied over the past decades, Boodram’s case was the first in which the policy was challenged.
While Seepersad accepted that the life sentence could be applied in some heinous cases he suggested that it should only be done after a Judge considers all the unique circumstances of the case and the offender.
British Queen’s Counsel Howard Stevens, who led the State’s legal team, claimed that the Court of Appeal did not have the discretion to impose any sentence other than life imprisonment on the prisoners whose sentences were commuted.
Stevens claimed that as the death penalty was mandatory without the issue of delay, there should also be a standard commuted sentence.
Boodram was convicted in November 1996 for the murders of Anthony Greenidge and Stephen Sandy, who were killed and buried in a shallow grave in a rice field.
Boodram’s case is one of two local landmark cases currently before the Privy Council.
In the next case, heard earlier this month, nine Law Lords are being asked to rule this country’s mandatory death penalty for murder as unconstitutional.