THE EDITOR: There is a popular consensus that the death penalty should be carried out in TT, which remains the legal punishment for murder in this country.
With the recent remarks by PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar that her Government intends to reintroduce the Capital Offences Bill, there will be much debate on the issue in several quarters. In fact, the opposition has already joined the debate by highlighting that it supports the death penalty, through its PRO, Senator Faris Al Rawi.
I am, however, concerned by Al Rawi’s public statements, as in 2011, when the Constitution (Amendment) (Capital Offences) Bill was debated in Parliament, the Opposition acted as obstructionists to the Bill under the cloak of genuine support for the death penalty. Situations where partisan politics is allowed to frustrate the entire nation should never be allowed to happen.
Last week, Al Rawi sought to justify the Opposition’s decision not to support the Capital Offences Bill 2011. His argument, however, remains illogical and untenable.
Al Rawi stated that the Opposition did not support the Bill because it sought to categorise the application of the death penalty in terms of offences, which would have reduced the current law from mandatory to discretionary, ie, first degree, second degree etc. A landmark judgment, Privy Council Appeal (No 12 of 2004), Charles Matthews vs State, put to rest whether a trial judge has the discretion to impose a mandatory death sentence upon any person found guilty of murder in TT. As a result of this judgment, all trial judges are obligated to impose the death penalty on people who commit murder. Let me paint a clearer picture of what this means. Suppose a MP becomes upset at a party event and assaults another individual. And the momentum from this assault, which can be in the form of a slap or push, causes the individual to lose their balance and fall down a flight of stairs, suffering injuries from which they later die. Under current law, this person should be sentenced to death for their crime even though their action was not meant to kill.
The categorisation of murders is intended to fix this problem. Under the Capital Offences Bill, this person would be charged with third degree murder, where the intent was not to kill, but to harm the person. I must believe that any rational person can see the logic in this decision.
The political hypocrisy of this situation is that the Opposition, through its PRO, has questioned why the Government has not carried out the death penalty in its three-year existence. One would remember that within eight months of assuming office, the current administration laid the Constitution (Amendment) (Capital Offences) 2011 Bill in Parliament, an indication of its desire to resume hanging. The better question to ask, however, is why didn’t the Opposition while in Government seek to implement the death penalty in its ten-year rule.
Furthermore, a different valid explanation for the Opposition’s failure to support the Bill is required. It is time that the Government and Opposition work hand in hand to put this issue at rest. Forty-one people cannot continue to play politics with the livelihoods of 1.3 million people.