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Caribbean Court of Justice considers constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty in Barbados

Caribbean Court of JusticeToday, the Caribbean Court of Justice hears the appeals of two death row prisoners who are seeking to have the mandatory death penalty in Barbados struck down as a violation of human rights. Barbados is one of only two countries in the Caribbean that continue to retain the mandatory death penalty, a colonial inheritance that has been widely condemned by the international community.

The two appellants, Jabari Nervais and Dwayne Severin, were convicted of murder and sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in 2012 and 2014 respectively.  As with all persons convicted of murder in Barbados, their death sentences were imposed automatically without the court having any opportunity to consider the individual circumstances of their cases and whether the death penalty was a proportionate sentence.

Over the past two decades there has been a substantial move away from the mandatory death penalty across the world, amid a growing international consensus that the practice is cruel, unfair and amounts to an arbitrary deprivation of life. Most recently, in December 2017, the Kenyan Supreme Court declared the mandatory death penalty unconstitutional, rejecting the practice as a “colonial relic”.

As a result of cases brought by The Death Penalty Project in 2007 and 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the mandatory death penalty to violate Barbados’ obligations under the American Convention of Human Rights and ordered the government to change the law and introduce judicial discretion. Despite assurance from Barbados that it would comply with the orders of the Court, no legislative reform has been made to date.

Whilst it has been over 30 years since an execution took place in Barbados, people continue to be sentenced to death. Thirty-three individuals have been sentenced to the mandatory death penalty since 2000 and Amnesty International reports that three death sentences were imposed in 2016. It is hoped that today’s challenge will result in an authoritative ruling from the Caribbean Court of Justice, finally removing the mandatory death penalty in Barbados.

Notes to Editors

The Death Penalty Project has brought domestic and international legal challenges to the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty in Barbados for over a decade and has been assisting Andrew Pilgrim QC, Douglas Mendes SC, Naomi Lynton and Kamisha Benjamin who are representing the appellants before the Caribbean Court of Justice.


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