Barristers' action stirs US death row debate

TWO human rights barristers believe they may be on the verge of forcing an end to the “inhumane” US system that allows prisoners to languish on death row pending execution.

Philip Sapsford QC and David Marshall fly out to the US this week in the wake of a Supreme Court order for the “death row phenomenon” to be examined by the lower courts.

The ruling follows the submission to the court by the barristers, both members of the Bar Human Rights Committee, of an amicus curiae brief appealing for the death sentence against Texas prisoner Clarence Lackey to be commuted to life.

They argued the US, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is bound to a recent Privy Council ruling that it was inhumane to keep two Jamaican prisoners on death row for 16 years.

“The Supreme Court is not making a positive decision at the moment, but it has asked the lower courts to consider the issue which may well then come back to the court,” says Marshall. “There's no doubt in reading the judgement that the judge was responding to the issues raised in the brief.”

The barristers will visit Lackey and lobby members of the Texas legal establishment.

They will also visit Atlanta, Georgia, where they have been invited by Briton Nicholas Ingram's lawyers to appeal for clemency before the state's Pardons and Paroles board. Ingram, due to be executed on Thursday, was sentenced in 1983.