The decision of the government, no doubt has been influenced by the spiralling crime wave in the federation, where the annual murder rate continues to be of serious concern both to the government and the citizenry.
The last hanging in the St. Kitts & Nevis was on 19th December, 2008.
The Federation’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, His Excellency Delano Bart, Q.C., acknowledged that although the issue is controversial it will continue to be so.
“However, having considered the matter, the Government has decided to retain it as one of the sentences available to the Court that it can use within its discretion. We accept, from the outset that there may be some evidence that it is not necessarily a deterrent but within the context of our present society and the increasing crime rate, the Government would have great difficulty in justifying to its citizenry its decision to deprive the Court of this optional punishment.” Mr. Bart said in presenting the national report at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
Bart told the Tenth Session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, a new mechanism of the Human Right Council that St. Kitts & Nevis will retain the death penalty for the offences of murder.
He said that the jurisprudence surrounding the death penalty has been highly developed and refined by the Courts to the extent that the Courts themselves will not pass such a sentence except in the most heinous of crimes which have been further refined to being “the worst of the worst.”
The high level diplomat said that although the death penalty remains as a punitive measure on the books, the evidence is clear that it is not frequently carried out.
“In the last thirty years there have only been three instances when the death penalty has been carried out. During that period of time, others have been sentenced to death but those sentences have either been commuted by the Court or by the Mercy Committee – a feature of the Constitution which intervenes when justice ends and mercy begins.
“In cases where it has been implemented, the legal procedure as set out in the Constitution has been duly followed. Where an accused is found guilty of a crime punishable by death, the penalty of death is no longer mandatory. There is a compulsory hearing dedicated solely to the question of sentence. This therefore means that the judge has before him an array of options in respect of sentence. The law requires that a social inquiry report along with a psychiatric report and any other report that the defence deems necessary be submitted to the Court for such a hearing,” Mr. Bart submitted.
He further reported that the convicted person is allowed to call witnesses to speak on his behalf and his Counsel is at liberty to try and persuade the Court against the imposition of the death penalty. If he is so sentenced he still has the right to appeal against that sentence to the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean and ultimately to the Appellate Division of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
“If the convicted person fails to have his sentence commuted he can petition the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy which was created by Section 67 of the Constitution. In the earlier life of the Committee there was no obligation for the Committee to hear a matter if it were not petitioned. However the law has since developed where, if the convicted person has not petitioned the Committee, the Committee is obliged to consider the matter and give him an opportunity to make representation before it as to why the sentence of death should not be carried out,” said the Federation’s chief diplomat at the United Nations.
He said although this is the due process of law, the Government is amenable to open consultation with its citizenry on various issues including this one.
The report was compiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Accompanying Ambassador Bart were Legal Advisor in the Ministry of National Security, Dr. Dennis Merchant; Ms. Karen Hughes, Parliamentary Counsel in the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and Ms Kaye Bass, Senior Foreign Service Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.