The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London remains as the final court of appeal for Jamaica. Jamaica retains the death penalty for aggravated murder. In 2004, in the case of Watson v The Queen, the JCPC struck down the mandatory death penalty for murder in Jamaica.
Jamaica has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1975. In 1997, Jamaica withdrew from the First Optional Protocol allowing for the right of individual petition and has neither signed nor ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. Jamaica ratified the American Convention on Human Rights in 1978, but it has not accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It has not signed the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.
There are currently six prisoners on death row.
In December 2011, we published a report on prison conditions in Jamaica. For more information, click here.
Notable cases that we have worked on include:
In this landmark case, the JCPC acknowledged that excessive delay on death row amounts to inhuman or degrading treatment. Their Lordships concluded that in any case in which execution is to take place more than five years after sentence, there will be strong grounds for believing that the delay is such as to constitute “inhuman or degrading treatment” and therefore unconstitutional. The effect of this case is that individuals who had spent more than five years on death row cannot be executed.
This case resulted in hundreds of prisoners then on death row in the Caribbean having their death sentences commuted. More recently, the judgment was relied on in the landmark decision of Kigula & Others v Attorney General in Uganda. For more information about the Kigula decision, click here.
The dispensation of mercy by the executive was originally held not to be subject to the rules of natural justice and in any event not to be subject to any form of judicial review. The approach had been “mercy begins where legal rights end”, but this approach was eventually abolished in the case of Neville Lewis when the JCPC looked again at the question of whether the mercy process itself was reviewable.
Against a background where the mercy system was operating as a ‘sentencing’ system in the context of a mandatory death penalty, and where modern administrative law already recognised that certain prerogative powers were reviewable, the JCPC departed from its earlier decisions and held that the exercise of the prerogative of mercy is reviewable. The JCPC held that procedural fairness and natural justice are fundamental requirements in the consideration of mercy and further that it would be unlawful to execute condemned prisoners whilst a petition was pending before an international human rights body.