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In a 34 to 15 majority vote, the House of Representatives today (November 25), affirmed its support for the retention of the death penalty, as specified in the Offences Against the Person Act.
Ten members were recorded absent, including Opposition Leader, Portia Simpson Miller, who is off the island.
In his brief remarks before the vote was taken, Prime Minister Bruce Golding stated that: “I don’t think anyone can say that the opportunity wasn’t provided for every member (to participate). It has been an extended debate…some 41 members of the House have participated. This doesn’t compare with the situation that took place in 1979 when, in a House of similar numbers, only 14 persons participated in the debate, although in the vote that was taken, 44 members participated, 43 voting, and one abstaining.”
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.