Privy Council Rules Mandatory Death Sentence In T&T Is Constitutional

(CMC) – The London-based Privy Council Monday ruled that the mandatory sentence of death for murder in Trinidad and Tobago is constitutional, and only Parliament can rewrite the law.

“The 1976 Constitution has allocated to the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, as the democratic organ of government, the task of reforming and updating the law, including such laws. Those laws will continue to exist only so long as Parliament chooses to retain them,” it said.

The Privy Council, the country’s highest court “unanimously dismisses the appeal,” that had been filed by Jay Chandler, who was convicted in 2011 of the murder Kirn Phillip in 2004 and was sentenced to death by hanging, which is the mandatory sentence for murder in Trinidad and Tobago as laid down in section 4 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1925.

His conviction and sentence was upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago and by the Privy Council in a judgement of 12 March 2018. The appellant’s sentence has since been commuted to one of life imprisonment.

In this appeal, Chandler mounts a constitutional challenge to the mandatory death penalty and the principal issue raised is the relationship between sections 4, 5 and 6 of the 1976 Constitution.

Section 4 of the 1976 Constitution recognises and declares fundamental rights, including the right of the individual not to be deprived of life, liberty and security except by due process of law. Section 5 prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment which, it is not disputed, includes the mandatory death penalty.

Section 6, the “savings clause”, provides that nothing in sections 4 or 5 shall invalidate an existing law, meaning a law that had effect as part of the law of Trinidad and Tobago immediately before the commencement of the Constitution. The mandatory death penalty is one such existing law.

In its ruling, the nine-member Privy Council said it is not persuaded that it should depart from its earlier decision and that the principle of legal certainty dictates that there must be very strong reasons before it will depart from such a ruling.

“The principle of stare decisis, or standing by what has been decided, requires that the Board be satisfied that the decision was wrong and that it lacked a satisfactory foundation. It is not enough that the Board as presently constituted might take a different view if considering the matter for the first time”.