Senate Passes Bill to Remove Mandatory Death Sentence for Murder


A Bill to amend the Offences Against the Person Act was passed in the Senate last Friday (Nov. 26) to remove the mandatory death sentence for capital murder.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator A. J. Nicholson, who piloted the legislation, which was passed with two amendments, explained that the intention was not to abolish the death penalty but to remove the mandatory death sentence for capital murder and give the court the discretion to impose a death sentence or a sentence of life imprisonment for all murder convictions. Under section 2 (2) of the Act, a person convicted of murder will be liable for life imprisonment or a term not less than 15 years at the discretion of the court.If a person convicted of murder has a previous murder conviction, whether it was for a murder committed on a different or on the same occasion, the court will now have the discretion to impose either the sentence of life imprisonment or death.
The new provision, Senator Nicholson pointed out, would also make it mandatory for the Court to hear representations, submissions and evidence relating to the sentences to be passed from the defence and prosecution before sentencing a person for murder.
He said that the Bill also made changes in the existing law governing the stage at which a person convicted of murder and sentenced to imprisonment will become eligible for parole. Explaining, he said that an individual sentenced to life imprisonment did not have to remain in the correctional institution for the rest of his life but may at some stage become eligible for parole and be released on parole and be allowed to stay on parole release for the rest of his life for good behaviour.
The Parole Act, the Criminal Justice (Reform) Act and the Gun Court Act will be amended to reflect the changes to the Offences Against the Person Act. Meanwhile, the Attorney General told the Senate that the government’s failure to execute the death penalty was not because of lack of will, but due to the time it took for the convicted person to exhaust 12 avenues of appeal open to him, bearing in mind the time limit set by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of five years from the date of the passing of the sentence of death.
He however noted that several initiatives have been put in place in Jamaica and the wider region to speed up the process to bring capital cases to conclusion and to obtain justice within the five-year stricture.The Privy Council, in a recent ruling, described the mandatory death penalty as “inhumane punishment and unconstitutional” and in contravention of section 17 (1) of the Jamaican Constitution.
As it stood, the Offences Against the Person Act provided for the mandatory death penalty on conviction for murder now designated as capital murder or where there has been a previous murder conviction for what is now non-capital murder.

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