The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London remains as the final court of appeal for The Bahamas. The Bahamas retains the death penalty for ordinary crimes including murder, treason and piracy. In 2006, the mandatory death penalty in the Bahamas was ruled unconstitutional by the JCPC in the seminal case of Bowe and Davis (see below). In October 2011, amendments were made to the Penal Code to reflect the move from a mandatory to a discretionary death penalty.
Although the Bahamas has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 2008, it has neither signed nor ratified the First Optional Protocol allowing for the right of individual petition, nor the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. Whilst a party to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, it has not signed or ratified the American Convention on Human Rights nor accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Bahamas has not signed the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.
As of 1st December 2012, there is one person under sentence of death in the Bahamas.
Notable cases that we have worked on include:
This Privy Council decision struck down the mandatory death sentence imposed on those convicted of murder in the Bahamas, as being in breach of the Constitution. In their judgment delivered by Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the JCPC took the view that as early as 1973, the mandatory death penalty should have been regarded as an inhuman and degrading punishment. This judgment has significant implications as it allows judges the discretion to impose a sentence other than death in all future murder cases. It subsequently prompted the then-Chief Justice of the Bahamas to issue a practice direction on sentencing procedures for persons convicted of murder to assist the judiciary and the legal profession in adapting and moving to a discretionary sentencing system.
This judgment reaffirmed the sentencing criteria we had established in the seminal cases of Trimmingham (2009) and Earlin White (2010) that the death penalty can only be imposed in the ‘worst of the worst’ cases, and in circumstances where there is no prospect of reform or rehabilitation. The Court also reiterated that psychological and/or psychiatric reports need to be obtained in every case in order to determine a number of critical factors including whether there are prospects of rehabilitation.