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Debate on the death penalty commenced in the Upper House yesterday (Dec. 11), with legislators putting forward strong views for and against Jamaica retaining the method of punishment as part of the justice system
Among those supporting the resumption of hanging was State Minister for National Security, Senator Arthur Williams, who said that even though he is fully aware that human life is precious and should not be lightly or wantonly taken, “I live in a country where murderers wantonly take the lives of innocent persons. I believe that some crimes are so grievous and an affront to humanity that the only adequate response is the death penalty”.
“I believe that justice demands that some people, who commit murder, those who so wantonly violate the sanctity of the lives of others, must meet the just punishment of being, themselves, deprived of their own lives,” he argued.
Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, Senator Dwight Nelson, said he supported capital punishment even though this conflicts with his religious belief as a Roman Catholic.
The Senator, whose son was brutally killed, said that murderers should face the ultimate punishment for their acts.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Dr. Ronald Robinson, argued that while he did not believe the retention of the death penalty will be the panacea for Jamaica’s crime problem, “if you have maliciously and deliberately taken a life, then I believe it is your just punishment that yours should be forfeited.”
Senator A. J. Nicholson, while noting the sacredness of life, said that “as long as the death penalty remains authorised by the constitution and laws of Jamaica, and is supported by the overwhelming majority of our people, as a legislator and an officer of the courts of law, I am obliged to see to the carrying out the law and to do nothing to hinder the process of the administration of justice.”
National Security Minister, Senator Colonel Trevor MacMillan, was among those who raised objection to the resumption of handing, stating that his position is not only based on the moral belief that all life is sacred, but on numerous research, which show that the death penalty does not ensure public safety, or provide a solution to crime.
“Both research and practice have established that violent crimes are caused by complex social problems. This means that the death penalty is unlikely to provide a solution to society’s crime problem, largely because it leaves the underlying causes of the crime unaddressed,” he stated. “The death penalty has never, and will never serve as a guarantee to lower the rates of crime,” he added.
Senator MacMillan said that while he is sympathetic to the sentiments of those who believe that convicted offenders should pay for their crimes, “I am wholeheartedly in support of policies that can reasonably be expected to act as a deterrent to serious crime.
Opposition Senator, Sandra Falconer, echoed the National Security Minister’s sentiments on the preservation of life. “Personally, I don’t believe in capital punishment, because of my conviction of the sanctity of life and its preservation”.
She further called for “wider consultations with the people” on the matter, and “that much weight must be placed in the will of the people. They should have a choice in this matter.”
Opposition Senator, Mark Golding, in his contribution, said he is not willing to support the retention of capital punishment, “and thereby, in a sense, become an accessory before the fact to potential unjust execution of some innocent citizens.”
“I really believe that the state should formally eschew capital punishment as a penalty, in the same way that corporal punishment should have no place in our penal system, and no longer does,” Senator Golding said.
He instead called for improvements to the justice system to ensure that “all convicted murderers have many, many years of forced reflection on their dastardly deeds and .by reconciling themselves to what they have done, they may be rehabilitated overtime”.
On November 25, the Lower House voted in favour of the death penalty with a 34 to 15 majority.