Browne-Wilkinson defends death row appeal remarks

Lord Browne-Wilkinson's controversial call to scrap Caribbean appeals to the Privy Council has provoked a furious debate among appeal lawyers.

Browne-Wilkinson made his comments in The Lawyer two weeks ago (17 May). He reiterates them in a letter on page 17. His latest defence of his position comes as the Privy Council rejected last week an appeal to stop the hanging of nine men convicted of murder in Trinidad.

In the letter, the senior Law Lord praises the work of pro bono lawyers who “bravely and skillfully” represent death row prisoners. But he also restates his view “that Caribbean appeals should end since they are disliked by the nationals of the Caribbean countries”.

Some appeal lawyers admit the Privy Council is anachronistic, but say it does help to safeguard justice in the Caribbean.

Saul Lehrfreund, of Simons Muirhead & Burton, who has represented death row prisoners for the past seven years, points out Caribbean locals are against the Privy Council in criminal cases, but happy that it has the final say in commercial disputes.

“They can't have it both ways. If they think that the Caribbean Court of Appeal will not be good enough for commercial matters, will it be good enough for my clients?” says Lehrfreund. As a question of sovereignty, “it should be gone tomorrow”, he says. But human rights may suffer.

Lovell White Durrant litigator Graham Huntley says abolitionists need to ask whether any replacement court will be materially better and worth the cost.

“The standard of the Privy Council judges is extraordinary. I don't think you could create a better court down there and it would involve significant cost.

“Just because the Privy Council is a historical anachronism doesn't mean it should go without consideration of these factors,” he says.