The death sentence of the sole female inmate awaiting execution in Trinidad has been quashed by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Julia Ramdeen was convicted of murder on 29 July 2008 and had been held under a sentence of death until the Privy Council handed down its judgment to her appeal on 27 March 2014.
The Death Penalty Project assisted Ramdeen, both in her appeal against conviction, and also with her invitation to the Privy Council to quash her death sentence, because the time that had elapsed since the sentence was first imposed now rendered it inhuman punishment and therefore unconstitutional. Ramdeen, however, had not yet commenced local constitutional proceedings in the Supreme Court to commute her sentence.
Whilst the Privy Council dismissed her appeal against conviction, it ordered that her sentence of death be commuted to one of life imprisonment.
The Privy Council found that, ordinarily, it has no jurisdiction to grant relief on a constitutional motion that should be filed and determined in the local court, rather than addressed for the first time on appeal. However, as a matter of “fairness and convenience”, when an appellant is legitimately appealing against conviction or sentence – and that process results in an excessive delay – then the Privy Council has the power to order that the sentence be substituted for one of life imprisonment at the appeal hearing, in order to save the delay, cost and court time involved in a having to bring a fresh motion.
This decision should particularly assist impecunious and unrepresented appellants, by removing some of the procedural hurdles to obtaining the constitutional relief that they are entitled to.
Edward Fitzgerald QC and Ruth Brander, barristers at Doughty Street Chambers, were instructed pro bono in this case.