Thursday, April 8, 2010

Courts -- a nation's sovereignty editorial:

MANY BAHAMIANS thought that by ridding themselves of the Privy Council as this country's last court of appeal our judicial system could retain the death penalty. Although the Privy Council is still our final court of appeal, and although a large number of Bahamians still favour its retention, it is quickly losing its attraction for those who want to retain the gallows for convicted murderers.

"Hang 'em high!" is still the angry reaction in this country as Bahamians defend capital punishment as the final solution to the growing murder count.

However, it now seems that the Privy Council is not the only stumbling block to retaining the death penalty.

According to Tuesday's Gleaner of Jamaica, the European Union is starting to show its mighty muscles by threatening to withdraw grant funds if Jamaica does not employ an additional Supreme Court judge.

According to The Gleaner Jamaica's Justice Minister Dorothy Lightbourne explained that she had to "follow the dictate of the powerful bloc of countries in order to benefit from grant funds they have provided."

The conditions, the Justice Minister told Parliament last week during the sitting of the joint select committee, have to do with fighting corruption and to improve the justice system. "They have said we should increase judges and we have brought on one judge."

Drawing attention to the notation in the 2010/2011 Estimates of Expenditure, which read: "One additional judge has already been hired to meet the European Union condition," MP Dr Morais Guy commented:

"I would be happy if I am told that this is just a wrong choice of terminology because I cannot see how they are imposing conditions on the sovereign country of Jamaica."

He was told that the money granted by the EU was going towards improving Jamaica's justice system. Guidelines were set out as a condition of the grant. An addition of judges was one of the conditions if funds were to be forthcoming.

And so as the EU could threaten to withhold grant funds over a judge, it could also threaten to withdraw much needed funds if the Bahamas insisted on retaining the death penalty in its legal system.

As a matter of fact this threat was seriously discussed in our private office several years ago by a visiting European ambassador paying a courtesy call on his annual tour of duty.

We believe that this discussion took place around 1993 when the hot topic on the street at that time -- and of much concern to Bahamians -- was the Privy Council's decision that two Bahamians could not be hanged because they had been languishing on death row for more than five years. To hang them after five years would amount to inhumane treatment, the Council ruled. This meant that the sentences of all those then on death row for five years or more had their sentences automatically commuted to life imprisonment. It also set out a time frame for the future.

On being asked public opinion on the abolition of the death penalty in the Bahamas, we explained that we believed that Prime Minister Ingraham was an abolitionist, but that most Bahamians were strongly for its retention. However, if capital punishment remained on the statute books, the Prime Minister would uphold the law. It was then that the ambassador threw down the gauntlet.

And what would happen, he asked, if the EU withdrew all grants from the Bahamas unless capital punishment were abolished?

We replied that the Bahamas would then have to face a serious issue. However, we believed it would be considered a bullying tactic by a powerful European bloc against a small, defenceless nation, especially with the mighty US next door, where many states still used the electric chair to get rid of its murderers. We suggested that they flex their muscles with the US first, and then they could come and talk with the Bahamas.

What is now interesting is that England is becoming nervous about the clout that the European Court of Humane Rights is having over the UK courts.

In defending his country's national sovereignty, the Lord Chief Justice -- Lord Judge -- has declared that the English Supreme Court must have the final say in its own jurisdiction, and that common law -- which is common sense built up over more than 800 years, going as far back as legal memory (1189) -- must be defended and preserved.

April 08, 2010