The debate on capital punishment in developing countries is a never-ending one. In St Vincent and the Grenadines capital punishment has existed in one form: hanging by the neck until dead. This form of capital punishment is as old as the island’s colonial history. In fact, hanging would have been the means of execution in the commonwealth nations because it was borrowed, like so many other things, from Britain.
The socio-economic development of nations have given birth to human rights organizations. Unfortunately (or fortunately) a popular area of contention as held by these human rights groups has been that of capital punishment. They have always argued that no human being should be executed. It amounts to murder. So even if the state carries out an order from the courts it is a murderer just like the executed. Well, the term executed implies here that is being taken for granted that capital punishment is on the law books for the offense of murder or treason. That is the case in our Caribbean territories.
Persons who have been angered by the voicing of the human rights groups’ opposition to capital punishment has always asked why should we protect the rights of the convicted murderer when that murderer did not extend that privilege to the victim. And that is quite understandable. When one reads of some of the premeditated acts of brutal violence and murder it often leaves one feeling that there must be an eye for an eye. I recall several years ago when a young man used a rope in the way that cowboys would to catch a wild animal, and pulled a young lady out of a public transport vehicle in the capital city. In the presence of all he proceeded merrily to use his cutlass and remove the young lady’s head from her shoulders.
Some said he even smiled in the process.
Crimes like these seem to want to make the average law-abiding citizen become a hang man or executioner. But since 1995 we have not seen an execution in these parts. A significant cause of this has been the ruling of the Privy Council in England that after a person has spent five years on death row their sentence is to be automatically commuted to life imprisonment. The rationale is that after waiting and wondering for five years when you will have your neck popped, then that is enough psychological torture and suffering.
Since that ruling it seems all on death row have filed one constitutional motion after another, sometimes on the most trivial of grounds such s lack of protein in the form of beef on a Sunday. So the system of due process has seen the five-year period elapse with no execution being done.
Those in favour of capital punishment have always said that it is a deterrent to committing violent crimes; that if someone knows he will be hanged then he will think twice. As it is now, convicted murderers of some of the most heinous crimes have been released on parole for good behaviour. The sting seems to be that the family of the victim is never in any way compensated or put in a position to make life easier because of their loss.
An interesting situation has developed in the UK recently where an attempt to allow the public to be actively involved in determining what their elected officials discuss has brought up the topic of capital punishment and hangings. In an e-petition poll conducted it was revealed that 53% of those who participated were in support of the reintroduction of hangings. This is interesting. The politicians and House of Commons will be discussing it later this year.England has not hanged anyone since 1964.
Let’s suppose that the public gets its way and the execution of persons through capital punishment is reintroduced then all in the Caribbean will be expecting that the old barricade from the Privy Council be removed immediately. In fact the Caribbean has also been trying to get its own final court up and running–The Caribbean Court of Justice or the CCJ as it is commonly called.
There are others a well who believe that it is the method of capital punishment that should be changed, not the total removal of capital punishment. In that light they claim that it is time to execute persons by more humane means such as a lethal injection. I suspect that whatever the outcome of the debate in England later this year that the saga will continue. However, whenever any mechanism that acts as a check and balance is removed or made inoperative then common sense will dictate that some other equally or even more effective means of achieving the same goal be put in its place.