A man facing Jamaica’s mandatory death penalty has seen his sentence overturned as a result of pro bono work by Allen & Overy (A&O).
Lambert Watson was found guilty of the murder of his girlfriend and baby daughter in 1999 and had already served five years on death row. But in a landmark ruling that could change the face of Jamaican law, the Privy Council in London ruled the sentence “an inhuman punishment”, which had subjected Watson to “inhuman or degrading treatment”.
The board of nine members, the largest-ever on a Privy Council appeal, also declared the mandatory death sentence for murder in Jamaica unconstitutional and, as a result, an automatic death sentence must now be considered unlawful. The validity of Watson’s own sentence will be reassessed in a Jamaican court.
A team of A&O lawyers had been working free of charge on the case over several years as part of the firm’s drive towards pro bono work. The outcome is testament to their efforts in the Caribbean.
“We’re convinced prisoners ought to be entitled to a fair sentence and not a mandatory death penalty,” said Arnondo Chakrabarti, one of the A&O litigation associates who worked on Wilson’s case.
“We’re pretty fortunate in the job we do because we can actually take the time out to do things like this. The service and skills we provide really can be a great help for people who might not otherwise have access to legal support”, added Chakrabarti, who also recently worked on a pro bono basis for political pressure group Free Tibet.
The A&O team worked alongside the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights, a charitable body dedicated to averting miscarriages of justice in the Caribbean. “We simply could not have got this far without them,” said Owain Morgan, an A&O associate who was part of the litigation team.
Prisoners held on death row in both Jamaica and Trinidad frequently endure appalling conditions and the Privy Council represents the last throw of the dice for many of them.
The A&O litigation team instructed Nicholas Blake QC and Julian Knowles of Matrix Chambers, Colin Nicholls QC of 3 Raymond Buildings and Lloyd Barnett and Nancy Anderson of the Jamaican Bar, all of whom also worked on the case without charge.
Last year, A&O lawyers devoted nearly 50,000 hours to pro bono work worldwide, which is the equivalent of £11.6m in chargeable hours.
As part of the pro bono drive, the firm now offers its trainees the opportunity to take a three-month placement at international charity Liberty, with whom it has a long association after working on several high-profile libel cases.