Trinidad & Tobago

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London remains as the final court of appeal for Trinidad & Tobago. Trinidad & Tobago retains the mandatory death penalty for murder and treason. In 2011, in the case of Nimrod Miguel, (see below) the JCPC ruled that the mandatory death penalty for “violent arrestable offence murder” is unconstitutional in Trinidad & Tobago.

Trinidad and Tobago has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1978. It withdrew from the First Optional Protocol allowing for the right of individual petition to the UN Human Rights Committee in 2000. It has neither signed nor ratified 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, in 1999, Trinidad & Tobago denounced its ratification of the American Convention of Human Rights and its acceptance of 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.

As of 1 December 2012, there are 21 people on death row in Trinidad & Tobago.

Notable cases that we have worked on include:

  • Sankar -v- The State (Trinidad & Tobago) [1995] 1 WLR 194
  • Boodram -v- The State (Trinidad & Tobago) [2002] 1 Cr App R 12

These cases established minimum requirements for competent legal representation and basic requirements of due process in capital cases. In both cases, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council allowed the appeals and quashed the respective death sentences.

  • Roodal -v- The State (Trinidad & Tobago) [2004] 2 WLR 652

This was a successful challenge to the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad & Tobago. Although later overturned in Matthew -v- The State (Trinidad & Tobago) [2004] 64 WLR 412, the litigation resulted in the commutation of the sentences of all prisoners (86 persons) under sentence of death in Trinidad & Tobago.

The Privy Council allowed Lester Pitman’s appeal on the basis of fresh psychiatric evidence which cast doubt on the safety of his conviction for murder and the legality of the sentence of death. The case was remitted back to the Court of Appeal to consider the impact of the new medical evidence and was heard in 2009. Judgment remains pending in the Court of Appeal in Trinidad & Tobago. See our press release here.

This decision affirmed the long-held principle that the State may not execute or condemn to death any person with significant mental impairment or mental illness, and the need to obtain medical evidence to determine such impairment/illness. We have subsequently filed applications to adduce fresh medical evidence in the JCPC in numerous cases; the appeals have all been allowed based on the fresh medical evidence and all cases have been remitted to the Court of Appeal in Trinidad & Tobago for further hearing. These cases include: Hernandez v The State, Carter v The State, Lewis v The State, Brown v The State, Benjamin & Ganga v The State, Daniel v The State, Marlon Taitt v The State.  

In June 2011, the JCPC ruled that the mandatory death sentence for “violent arrestable offence murder” is unconstitutional in Trinidad and Tobago. The Court found that this amounted to cruel and unusual treatment. This important ruling will assist many other prisoners on death row who have been convicted of “violent arrestable offence murder” and were sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago. All such prisoners will now be entitled to be resentenced.

See our press release here.

Mr. Krishna appealed to the Privy Council against his conviction for murder and sentence of life imprisonment. In 2011, the JCPC delivered their judgment and allowed the appeal and ordered his immediate release. The appeal was allowed on the grounds that there were significant irregularities at trial, which inevitably rendered his conviction for murder unsafe. The Court noted that as Mr. Krishna had already spent 23 years in custody (including 5 years on death row), no retrial should take place and he should be immediately released from prison. See our press release here.