The Inter-American Court of Human Rights

  • Boyce et al v Barbados

In 2007, we represented four prisoners under sentence of death in Barbados before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. This case alleged violations of the American Convention on Human Rights on behalf of the appellants, one of whom had died in custody. The main issues included the application of the mandatory death penalty, the effect of savings clauses, prison conditions and hanging as a method of execution. In November 2007, the Court found, inter alia, that the mandatory death sentence imposed on all those convicted of murder in Barbados violates the right to life, as it is arbitrary and fails to limit the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes. The Court further found that the prison conditions endured by the applicants constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights. See Press Releases for further information.

On 3 February 2009, the Government of Barbados submitted a Report on the measures adopted to comply with the judgment and they confirmed their intention to comply with the Order of the Court in full. Barbados has commuted the death sentence of Michael Huggins who had remained under sentence of death in Barbados. Barbados has also undertaken to abolish the mandatory aspect of the death penalty and will repeal the Savings Law Clause contained in s.26 of the Constitution, which has for so long prevented the domestic courts from declaring the existing laws unconstitutional.

The willingness expressed by the State to abolish mandatory sentencing and to repeal the “savings clause” represents an important step in bringing the domestic law and practice into compliance with the standards of the American Convention on Human Rights. This case was of seminal importance to the future of the death penalty in Barbados as defined by its obligations under international law.

  • Cadogan v Barbados

In collaboration with attorneys from Barbados and Trinidad, we represented Tyrone DaCosta Cadogan who was sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in Barbados, in his application to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and thereafter the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  In October 2008, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights granted provisional measures to protect Mr Cadogan from execution whilst his case remained pending determination before the Court.  We were able to obtain fresh medical evidence by instructing a clinical psychologist to travel to Barbados, assess the alleged victim and prepare a detailed psychology report. The report was submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as evidence indicating that Mr Cadogan was mentally impaired, and therefore unlawfully under sentence of death. Expert evidence was also provided by Edward Fitzgerald CBE QC and Professor Nigel Eastman, a forensic psychiatrist.

On 1 July 2009, the case was heard at the Seat of the Court in San Jose, Costa Rica. The State was represented at the hearing by the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Solicitor-General of Barbados. On the 24th of September 2009, the Court ruled that following their decision in Boyce (see above), the mandatory death penalty imposed upon all persons convicted of murder in Barbados was a violation of the right to life, due to its arbitrary nature and because it failed to limit the death sentence to the most serious crimes. The Court also found that Mr. Cadogan was denied a fair trial as his mental state was not assessed at trial and ordered that in all future capital cases, psychiatric and/or psychological assessments must be carried out, especially as the death penalty is still mandatory in Barbados. The Court therefore ordered that the death sentence imposed upon Mr. Cadogan be lifted and ordered a hearing for his re-sentencing.

Please see our press release for further details.