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Death penalty unit has cases under review

Guardian Staff Reporter

Published: May 06, 2013

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A special death penalty unit tasked with fast-tracking death penalty cases is established and reviewing matters on a case-by-case basis, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez said.

In its Charter for Governance, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) pledged to create the unit.

“Each case is reviewed and if we are going to ask for the death penalty, that is determined at a very early stage,” Gomez said.

Under the Ingraham administration, Parliament passed a law that outlines the categories of murder that would have the death penalty attached.

“The courts have set out circumstances in which it would be appropriate for the imposition of the death penalty, and those circumstances where it would not be,” Gomez said.

“What our lawyers do is determine whether a particular case falls within or outside the circumstances in which the death penalty could be imposed.

“In those cases where it is unlikely it would be imposed, we don’t ask for it, and in not asking for it we save judicial time and focus on the real issues that need to be determined.”

Constitutional Commission member and former attorney general Carl Bethel said yesterday “due haste” should be applied to all serious cases, though he said the focus on capital cases is a good thing.

“I think it would be wrong to focus only on capital cases although that is the main issue,” he told The Nassau Guardian. “If every serious case was moved rapidly, we’d address the backlog and we would begin to see an effective system of justice.

“To have this special focus on just capital cases while it sounds good, if it is in the context of a system that is still unresponsive, it is bound to meet the same unresponsiveness that affects everything else.”

No hanging has been carried out in The Bahamas since 2000. There have been several notable cases where the Privy Council has quashed the death sentence.

Several business leaders, civic society luminaries and prominent members of the clergy have called for The Bahamas to abandon the Privy Council as its final court of appeal.

Some have recommended that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) be made the country’s final court of appeal.

Bethel said the Privy Council’s standard of the ‘worst of the worst case’ for the imposition of the death penalty has perplexed some senior members of the judiciary and many Bahamians alike, but empowering the CCJ as the final appellate court may be a “false hope”.

“To date they have not found any reason to disagree with the Privy Council and they may change the wording, but the conclusion is the same,” he said.

“Even with the new standard now — that the death penalty can only be imposed in the worst of the worst cases — [it] has not provoked any difference of opinion.”

He said Bahamians should consider whether it would be in the country’s best interest to have an indigenous superior court, staffed with judges who understand the environment, culture and customs of The Bahamas.

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