The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London remains as the final court of appeal for St Christopher and Nevis. St Christopher and Nevis retains the death penalty for murder and treason. In 2002, in the case of Fox v The Queen (see below), the JCPC endorsed the decision of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in Spence & Hughes and ruled that the mandatory death penalty is unconstitutional.
St Christopher and Nevis is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and 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. St Christopher and Nevis has not signed the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Notable cases that we have worked on include:
In this case, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council endorsed the Judgment of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in the case of Spence & Hughes -v- The Queen (St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia), which was the first successful challenge to the inhumanity of the mandatory death penalty in the Commonwealth Caribbean. The Board reaffirmed that the mandatory death sentence in the case of all murders, violates the constitutional protection against inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In 2009, we filed emergency applications in the JCPC on behalf of four prisoners under sentence of death in St Kitts, Romeo Cannonier, Sheldon Isaac, Reudency Williams and Louis Gardener, who were then at imminent risk of execution. Stays of Execution were granted and because of worrying concerns about their mental health, a psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist were instructed to travel to St. Kitts to assess the appellants in order to obtain fresh medical evidence. The JCPC admitted the fresh medical evidence, and remitted the case to the Court of Appeal in St Kitts for further hearing.
In March 2012, the ECCA delivered its judgment. Mr. Issac was acquitted on fresh medical evidence which demonstrated that he was severely brain damaged. In relation to the other three appellants, the Court quashed all their death sentences, substituting terms of life imprisonment.
Critically, the Court of Appeal found that a provision which imposed a 14 day time limit for appealing in capital cases was unconstitutional as it imposed an arbitrary limitation on the appellants’ right to appeal and infringed upon their right of access to the Court of Appeal to have their convictions and death sentences reviewed. The Court ruled that the provision should be interpreted in such a way to provide for a discretionary time limit with the power to extend in all cases equally. As a direct result of this judgment, prisoners facing the death penalty in St Christopher and Nevis will in future be able to pursue all domestic appeals without being subjected to this clause. This judgment will impact other countries, where similar unjust time limits continue to exist in capital cases. The judgment also reaffirms the long held principle that the State cannot condemn to death or execute any person with significant mental impairment.
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