Amnesty International Report 1995 - Trinidad and Tobago

The first execution since 1979 was carried out and two prisoners came close to being executed. At least one death sentence was imposed. The first execution in nearly 15 years was carried out. Glen Ashby, convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1989, was executed on 14 July. This was the first hanging to be carried out in three years in the English-speaking Caribbean. The execution caused international consternation not only for marking a resumption of executions but also because it was carried out in contravention of national and international law. The death warrant was read to Glen Ashby less than 48 hours before the execution was due to take place; the practice has been to read a death warrant on Thursday for execution on Tuesday, providing time for the prisoner to seek legal advice on any proceedings still available and to make any final personal arrangements. On 13 July the Attorney General gave an undertaking to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London, Trinidad and Tobago's final court of appeal, that "there would be no execution until all possibility of obtaining a stay of execution, including an appeal to the Board [JCPC], has been exhausted". In view of this statement the Court of Appeal, sitting at the time the execution was carried out, did not grant a stay of execution requested by lawyers in order to file a constitutional motion on grounds of, among other things, the very short notice given of intended execution. This issue was pending a decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Lincoln Guerra and Brian Wallen (see below) and therefore Glen Ashby's execution should have been stayed pending a decision. Glen Ashby was just six days away from completing five years under sentence of death and thus becoming eligible to have his sentence commuted under the JCPC's November 1993 ruling that execution after five years constitutes "inhuman or degrading punishment" (see Amnesty International Report 1994, Jamaica entry). At the time of Glen Ashby's execution, the JCPC was communicating by fax to the Attorney General its decision to grant a stay of execution. On 6 July Glen Ashby asked the Human Rights Committee (HRC) to consider his case, which takes several months. No time was allowed by the government for the HRC to consider Glen Ashby's case. International standards provide that no execution may "be carried out pending any appeal or other recourse procedure"; these obligations were ignored by the government. In a statement issued in late July, the HRC expressed its "indignation" at the failure of the government to allow time to review Glen Ashby's communication and said that there was "no precedent in the Committee's practice in capital cases" of such an attitude. The HRC decided to continue considering Glen Ashby's complaint. On 24 March a warrant was issued for the execution of Lincoln Guerra and Brian Wallen the next day, only three days after the JCPC dismissed their petition for leave to appeal against conviction. Both men had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death in May 1989. The prisoners filed constitutional motions arguing that executing them would be a violation of their constitutional rights and requested a stay of execution. The High Court refused to grant the stay. An appeal was filed immediately but was dismissed; however, they were granted a 48-hour stay and leave to appeal to the JCPC. The JCPC subsequently adjourned the hearing of the prisoners' application until 25 April and granted a stay until after determination of the application. On 18 April the Court of Appeal dismissed their constitutional motion and refused a stay of execution pending an appeal. However, the Attorney General made a commitment that the two men would not be executed until determination of an appeal to the Court of Appeal; he refused, however, to give a similar undertaking to cover the appeal to the JCPC. On 9 June the Court of Appeal heard the appeal on the constitutional motion and reserved judgment. In view of the circumstances surrounding the execution of Glen Ashby (see above), Lincoln Guerra and Brian Wallen sought an undertaking from the Attorney General on 19 July that they would not be executed pending the determination of any further appeals available to them; however, this was not forthcoming. The two men petitioned the JCPC on 25 July to grant them a stay of execution should the Court of Appeal rule against them, so that they could pursue further appeals. The JCPC stated that "their Lordships were much concerned that … the petitioners might be executed before they had an opportunity to exercise their right of appeal to the Judicial Committee". The JCPC, after giving careful consideration to the matter of jurisdiction, directed that "the sentence of death be not carried out … until after determination of such appeal by the JCPC". On 27 July the Court of Appeal issued its decision (pending since June) rejecting the men's appeal. It strongly criticized the JCPC decision and the lawyers for taking action "to pre-empt the jurisdiction of this court" but granted the men leave to appeal to the JCPC. A full hearing was pending at the end of the year. At least one death sentence was imposed during the year for murder; at the end of the year there were about 60 prisoners under sentence of death. The court hearing in the case of an 11-year-old boy sentenced to 20 strokes in April 1993 and flogged with a leather belt was held on 14 November (see Amnesty International Report 1994). He was seeking redress and compensation from the government. In April Amnesty International wrote to the Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, expressing its concern at the attempt to execute Lincoln Guerra and Brian Wallen. The organization pointed out that there had been a departure from normal practice on the issuing of death warrants; that the two men were only two months away from completing five years under sentence of death and therefore becoming eligible to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment; and that no time had been allowed for them to submit their case to the HRC or the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Amnesty International urged the Attorney General to ensure that this situation did not arise again. It further urged the authorities to commute all death sentences and to take steps to abolish the death penalty. In July Amnesty International called on the government not to execute Glen Ashby and expressed its "deep regret and strongest condemnation" after his execution, noting that the hanging had been carried out in violation of national and international law. There had been no reply from the government by the end of the year.

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