Jamaican Senate votes to retain death penalty

KINGSTON, Jamaica – On Friday, December 19, the Jamaican Senate voted ten to seven in support of the retention of the death penalty as part of Jamaica’s justice system. Three members were absent.

The move by the Senate follows the House of Representatives’ 34 to 15 majority vote on November 25, to resume capital punishment, as specified in the Offences Against the Person Act. At the time of the vote, 10 members were recorded absent.

Senator Don Wehby

Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, Senator Don Wehby, in his remarks before the vote was taken, said that while he is in support of the death penalty, capital punishment is not the panacea for the country’s crime problem.

“We have to provide a social system for the most vulnerable persons in our society. We have to improve our education system so that it will produce persons with the skills and certifications demanded worldwide and our economy needs to grow and provide opportunities for all citizens to make an honest and comfortable living,” he stated.

He further pointed to the need for the justice system to be reformed, to make it more equitable and efficient, so that cases can be processed more quickly, while the Government must take a zero tolerance to lawbreakers and the Jamaica Constabulary Force must be improved.

According to Senator Wehby, the decision to retain the death penalty should be done with the understanding that it should only be used in the case of the most violent crimes. “It should be retained as an option and the judiciary would decide when it is appropriate for this option to be carried out,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Thomas Tavares Finson, said that he is not in support of the death penalty.

“History tells me that the imposition of capital punishment on a few hapless souls will do nothing to stem the rising tide of criminality and murder, which seems to be drowning this place we call Jamaica. Nor will hanging them high or public executions in Half-Way-Tree square stop this scourge of murder, which permeates every aspect of Jamaican life today,” he stated.

He said that while he is of the view that the system, “can efficiently and fairly conduct a regime of capital punishment, I cannot stand here today and offer a vote for the retention of the death penalty. To do so would be a betrayal of my conscience.”

Although the death penalty is still on the books, there has not been an execution in Jamaica since the late 1980s. A landmark decision by the Privy Council in the Pratt and Morgan case (1993), upheld the ruling that where the period between the imposition of a sentence of death and execution exceeds five years, it shall be presumed that execution would amount to inhumane or degrading punishment or treatment, which is contrary to the Jamaican Constitution.

Consequently, the Governor-General refers all such cases to the Privy Council, which recommends commutation to life imprisonment. Under the pre-existing system, as long as the accused was found guilty for certain types of murder, then the sentence of death was automatic.

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