The ghosts of “Pratt & Morgan” requires you to draw yuh brakes DPP

A gallows (Photo credit: Johannes Blenke)

I get it that pockets of Jamaicans are fed up with the high murder rate in the country. I say some Jamaicans, because for a huge pocket of our population, the unrelenting murder occurrences have simply become commonplace. As of 1 June 2022, Jamaica ranks as the second most murderous country in the world behind El Salvador with nearly 47 murders per 100,000 of the population. We have been ensconced among the top five most murderous countries in the world for over 20 years. So, yes, some of us are fed-up. The problem is that there seems to be no end in sight as our justice system is in tatters. The recent rulings in the Klansman Trial clearly illustrate a dysfunctional investigative, evidence management and custody issue and, by extension, court apparatus unable to present sustainable and winnable cases.

Conviction rates, as reported, are exaggerated as when the convictions to arrest ratios are examined less than 10 per cent of people arrested and charged are convicted. So, how do you then make a meaningful argument for punishment as a deterrent when your court system is a failure at what it should be doing?

It is against this background that I find the utterances of Paula Llewelyn, Jamaica’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that she will be seeking the death penalty against the Clarendon quintuple murderer to be disingenuous and outrightly misleading, though that is just a tip of the proverbial iceberg. The second element of her misleading the frustrated public has to do with why we have not hung anyone in Jamaica since 1989.

In 1993, the UK Privy Council handed down a ruling in the matter of Pratt & Morgan v The Attorney General of Jamaica which effectively removed the death penalty as a sentencing option for Jamaican Courts. The Privy Council, in delivering its verdict, found that both men were treated inhumanely by having them languishing on death row for 14 years and that while the Jamaican legal process meandered it prevented the swift execution of justice which was its basis of operation.

Compounding that decision is the fact that Jamaica is a signatory to the United Nation’s Charter for Human Rights has effectively abolished the death penalty. Countries, like Jamaica, which depend on these larger member countries for financial assistance dare not go against these adopted practices as they would be starved of necessary aid/funds.

Mention must be made of the Bruce Golding administration’s quoted removal of the moratorium on hanging in 2009. In the circumstances this had to have been merely a theoretical exercise geared at appeasing the angst of Jamaicans who were fed up then with the high rate of murder in the country as we all have been in the years since. Why wasn’t the DPP, over that period, champing for the death penalty in subsequent murder trials and why have we not hanged anyone since 1989 despite the multiple heinous murders committed since that time? It makes for interesting discussion why hanging would have ceased at a time when the murder rate was a small fraction of what they have catapulted to in the last 25 years. Even more puzzling must be the question of the current DPP’s motives at this time. Is this a mere “puff” to try to gain some popularity from members of the public who are unaware of the underlying issues and the ineptness of the DPP’s office?

It is worthy to note that the conditions that led to the UK Privy Council’s decision have not improved since. It still takes, on average, eight to ten years for murder cases to be completed by the courts. The appeals process has not gotten any shorter and still takes 10 and 15 years to traverse the system. This means that the cruel and inhumane issue, as found by the UK Privy Council’s law lords, would still apply were death sentences being dished out in the Jamaican courts, a fact that I am sure the office of the current DPP must be fully aware of. It makes Llewelyn’s death penalty call a mere public relations floatation to try to regain some popularity in some circles. It would seem to be aimed, as well, at boosting the government’s stocks given its failures at crime and Justice management. On both counts her death penalty call is of no meaningful value.

Richard Hugh Blackford B.Sc., M.S (Ed).

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