Senator Lisa Cummins Comments on Rejection of the Amendment to Offences against the Person Amendment Bill 2018
@David, There is not much to disagree with there, but I am of the view that the failure was owed to crass politicking.See be;ow-
Notably, the Constitution also now provides for the convicted person himself to make a submission to the Privy Council – see section 78 (5).
It would thus have been in the nation’s best interest for the Senate to accede to the Boyce amendment that, in our view, does not fundamentally alter the intendment of the legislation under debate.
Unfortunately, thereafter, according to one report, the matter appears to have descended into partisan politics, with the Leader of Government Business objecting to the amendment proposed by Senator Boyce on the ground that the impugned provision in the Bill had also been proposed by the previous DLP administration.
The Constitution remains unchanged
There has been a lot of understandable debate about the death penalty bill that was before our Parliament and I want to take a moment to explain what the bill is and is not.
The bill is NOT a move to remove the sentence of death from the books of Barbados. The sentence of death as a penalty REMAINS on our books.
It is a move to comply with the rulings of the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights and the CCJ that in cases of murder, the fact that the law ONLY allows for a sentence of death is unconstitutional.
What does it do?
If you are involved in ANY kind of incident resulting in death, the law as it stands does not allow for our TV cases we all love to watch to be applied. So there is no 1st, 2nd degree or manslaughter provision by which different sentences can be applied. The death penalty is the only sentence. Think about that for a moment… Its not right and the courts have said so.
The role of Parliament is to serve as the legislature so it makes and changes laws in the interest of our nation. This bill moved to change the law to fix the problems I identified in oversimplified manner and the rulings of the appellate courts that we must comply with.
Imagine that just a few months ago during our election many were up in arms that the Electoral commission and the then govt REFUSED to comply with four court rulings instructing them that the law allowed for commonwealth voters to be registered in Barbados. We could not imagine how the Govt refused to uphold the ruling of the court.
So here we are, in effect, refusing to uphold the ruling of two courts which have said we need to make this change.
The assizes have opened and no murder cases can be called. They cannot be called because there can be no sentencing. Not as long as the death penalty remains mandatory. The key here is the word mandatory. Mandatory simply means there is no alternative to the sentence of death. Whatever the circumstances.
So there is nothing to celebrate here. The accused killers of the breadman this week if caught will sit in prison and lime away their days in perpetuity if they fail to make bail and chill at the tax payers expense. Their cases cannot be called. There is no sentence available to them. Not even the death penalty that people may want simply, because it is still mandatory and as long as that is the case, Barbados is not in compliance with the rulings made by the higher courts.
Think about the families, including maybe yours, who will have persons accused of a crime resulting in death of their loved ones who cannot find closure because this Bill did not allow us to change the laws and give judges the option of other sentences after trial.
Think about the possibility that with the length of time the system will take to deal with this issue will result in many people leaving prison having already served their time while on remand – because they’ve been chilling in prison so long before their case was called – that they could get a sentence equal to time served. Where is the justice in that?
I understand that many people simply hear the words ‘Death penalty’ and think that the govt is removing it from our books and growing soft on criminal behaviour. That is not what this is about. In simple terms the death penalty remains on our books BUT judges now would have the discretion to sentence to death for the most egregious offences and hand down a lesser sentence for offences with mitigating factors. That is not just the right thing to do, it is what the IACHR and CCJ have ruled that we have to do.
Even before these rulings the privy Council weighed in and ruled that the length of time a person sentenced to death is on death row matters. It constitutes, according to the Privy Council, ‘cruel and inhumane punishment’ to have persons sitting on death row for eons. So time spent in prison matters after sentencing. If we are not careful we will also find ourselves being challenged about the length of time being spent in prison before sentencing and without even a trial. also think about that angle.
I’ve also seen some comments on absent Senators. Barbados lives in the world. Our professionals travel on business all the time. Three of us have been traveling and still are. That’s the reality of doing business – we have to engage in the conduct of international relations and the national business at home and abroad must continue. So that point is moot.
What took place last Wednesday in the Senate, in all its parts, was unfortunate. It was unfortunate for our justice system and for families with both lost loved ones and those with persons accused of crimes. It was unfortunate period.
But what it shows is that there is a great deal of public education required about the workings of the government and its respective arms. Many people simply just don’t understand and in the vacuum the discussion is vocal but limited. It’s the same as the unfortunate case of two nations voting this week in small numbers against accepting the CCJ. What people dont understand they fear and social media often fills the gap with distorted information by persons who also dont know but at least have a platform to share misguided views.
Public civic education needs to be an urgent priority so that we leverage an engaged population into an engaged knowledgeable population. In this death penalty discussion there is too much hype and it needs to be dialed back and replaced with a solid, simple conversation.
Let’s see where we go from here in the peoples interest…