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UK’s Privy Council set to hear important challenge to constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago

  • News
  • 1 Nov 2021

•                  London based NGO, The Death Penalty Project, based at Simons Muirhead Burton LLP, is representing Jay Chandler, sentenced to death by hanging in 2011, pro bono

•                  The appeal will challenge the constitutionally of automatic death sentences being imposed on anyone convicted of murder in Trinidad and Tobago

•                  As the UK marks the annual Pro Bono Week, Chandler vs the State is a high-stakes example of the importance of providing free legal representation.

On 2 November 2021, The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council will hear this important appeal before a panel of nine justices. The increase in the number of justices, from five to nine, highlights the significance of the case which concerns the application of the mandatory death penalty for murder in Trinidad and Tobago.

Chandler’s lawyers will challenge his sentence on the grounds that it violates Trinidad & Tobago’s constitution. The Privy Council will consider a recent precedent set in a similar challenge in Barbados in 2018, which saw the mandatory death penalty declared as unconstitutional. The case, Nervais vs the Queen, was heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and overturned an earlier ruling by the JCPC [Boyce v the Queen 2005].

 Trinidad and Tobago is the last country in the English-speaking Caribbean, and one of the few in the world, to retain the mandatory death penalty for murder. Section 4 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1925, provides that “every person convicted of murder shall suffer death.” 

Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director of The Death Penalty Project said:

“This is an important appeal – lives depend on it. We seek to challenge a practice which by today’s standards is recognised to be inhumane because a court cannot apply its own discretion as to whether the death penalty, in each and every case, is appropriate. The government of Trinidad and Tobago is relying on a ‘savings law’ clause in the constitution which has the effect of protecting from challenge outdated colonial laws which may no longer be relevant or morally acceptable. This case has a wider impact, that isn’t just about cruel punishments, but also about laws that might discriminate on grounds of gender, religion or sexuality – laws objectionable to modern democratic societies.”

Notes to editors

Facts about the case

Jay Chandler was sentenced to death by hanging in 2011, for the murder of Kirn Phillip on 8 October 2004. Phillip died after being stabbed, while both men were serving sentences at Golden Grove Prison, Arouca. 

In March 2018, Chandler’s appeal against his conviction was dismissed by the JCPC, despite fresh evidence from forensic psychiatrist Professor Nigel Eastman, that showed Chandler has experienced a history of mental health issues and could have likely been experiencing psychosis at the time of the crime. 

Death Penalty Project

The Death Penalty Project (DPP) is a legal action NGO based at, and supported by, London legal firm, Simons Muirhead Burton LLP. For more than three decades, the DPP has worked to protect the human rights of those facing the death penalty.

In Chandler vs. the State, The Death Penalty Project is representing the appellant and has instructed Ed Fitzgerald QC of Doughty Street Chambers, Amanda Clift Matthews, Douglas Mendes SC of Trinity Chambers, Trinidad and Tobago, and Rajiv Persad of Allum Chambers, Trinidad and Tobago. All are acting pro bono for the appellant.

For interview requests, quotes or more information please contact Joey Greene, Death Penalty Project, Communications Lead, 020 3206 2849 or joanna.greene@smab.co.uk

Mandatory death penalty

The mandatory death penalty, is an automatic sentence, which removes the opportunity for judicial discretion and fails to take into account mitigating circumstances, such as the mental health of the accused.

The death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago is the only country in the English-speaking Caribbean that retains the mandatory death penalty. There are currently approximately 45 individuals on death row in the country and over 1,300 awaiting trial for murder.

There have been no executions carried out in Trinidad and Tobago for over 20 years. The last hanging took place in July 1999.

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