PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Court of Appeal has ruled that 82 death row inmates, who were sentenced to hang over two decades ago and had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment, are to be re-sentenced with clearly defined prison terms.
The Court Thursday ruled that sentencing judges have a full range of sentencing powers available to them and a discretion to impose prison terms other than life.
“There is no logical reason why the sentence of life imprisonment should be imposed carte blanche upon every person who has their sentence commuted. That is inherently arbitrary and potentially disproportionate,” Chief Justice Ivor Archie wrote on behalf of the three-member panel.
“The circumstances of each murder are different and a court properly seized of the relevant facts would be able to substitute the appropriate sentence.”
The Appeal Court made the ruling in the appeal of death row prisoner Naresh Boodram, who had been sentenced to death in November 1996 for murdering Anthony “Tooks” Greenidge and Stephen “Bull” Sandy in 1992.
The Appeal Court ruled that the appeal was of significant constitutional importance in light of the current focus on restorative justice and prison reform.
Boodram asked the Appeal Court to vacate his death sentence and have him re-sentenced by the High Court.
But the state had argued that the Court should follow the positions outlined by the London-based Privy Council, the island’s highest court, in the 2004 and that of Pratt and Morgan, which imposed a five-year time limit for death sentences to be carried out.
In its ruling, the Appeal Court noted that Section 14 of the Constitution allowed the courts to impose whatever sentence was deemed appropriate.
“In effect, we have kept in place a punishment that does violence to Sections 4 (a) and 5 (2)(b) of the Constitution, which has said that the delay in carrying out executions constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and yet have failed to fully grapple with the obligation to uphold the rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution,” the Court of Appeal ruled. – CMC