Death Row prisoners in the Bahamas may have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment following a landmark Privy Council ruling.
The council commuted the sentences of two Bahamians after ruling that the delay that had occurred between their convictions and the launching of their appeal procedures, was “cruel” and “inhumane”.
It has ruled that a period of three and-a-half years in prison awaiting execution “with all the agony of mind which that entails, would in the circumstances be so prolonged a time as to render execution cruel or inhuman punishment”.
Since 1993 the Bahamian authorities have followed a Privy Council ruling which set down five years as the maximum delay period after commuting the death sentences of two
Jamaicans who had been on death row for 14 years.
But the Privy Council has decided that the appeal process in the Bahamas should not take as long as five years because, unlike Jamaica, it is not a signatory to the United Nations Covenant on Human Rights, which means its appeals procedures are less complex.
According to Richard Sallybanks, of Burton Copeland, who acted for one of the prisoners, there are currently around 40 prisoners on death row in the Bahamas. A number of these are now likely to have their sentences commuted.
Sallybanks said: “The Council was keen to avoid employing a mathematical approach to the commuting of sentences. It is hoped over the next few months that the Bahamian authorities will consider each case individually.”
The other case was taken on by Rae Lindsay, a public international lawyer from Clifford Chance.
Lindsay and Sallybanks are members of a pro bono panel of London firms which take on death row appeal cases from the Caribbean.