Mandatory Death Sentence for Murder Repealed


The House of Representatives on Tuesday (October 26) passed amendments to the Offences Against the Person Act, removing the mandatory sentence of death for murder and giving the court the discretion to impose a death sentence or imprisonment for life in cases that formerly attracted the mandatory sentence.
Minister of National Security, Dr. Peter Phillips who piloted the Bill, explained that the legislation had been brought to the House in response to the recent decision by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the case of Lambert Watson versus the Queen.
“In the Lambert Watson case, the Privy Council held that imposition of the mandatory sentence of death on the appellant pursuant to the Offences Against the Person Act, subjected him to inhumane punishment within the meaning of Section 17 (1) of the Constitution,” Dr. Phillips explained.
He added, “the Privy Council did so on the basis that to condemn a person to die without giving him the opportunity to persuade the court that to condemn him to death, would in his case, be disproportionate and inappropriate”.
Consequent to this judgment, a decision was taken to amend the Offences Against the Person Act. In addition to giving the court the discretion to impose a sentence of life imprisonment in those cases that formerly attracted the mandatory death sentence, the amendment also makes provision for the Court, to specify a period of imprisonment, which the offender should serve before becoming eligible for parole and for the court to hear submissions, representations and evidence relevant to the sentence to be passed.
The Bill also provides for the review of cases in which the mandatory sentence of death has been pronounced with a view to the Court making a determination as to the appropriate sentence. Dr. Phillips noted that consequential amendments would also be made to the Criminal Justice (Reform) Act, the Gun Court Act, and the Parole Act.
Emphasizing that the Bill was not an abolition of the death penalty, Minister Phillips stated that the amendments ensured that, where sentences for capital murder upon conviction were life imprisonment, a minimum period of not less than 20 years must be served. In relation to what was now designated as non-capital murder he said, persons would not become eligible for parole until they had served at least 15 years of their sentence.

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