The London-based Death Penalty Project, says whilst the Court of Appeal in Guyana on Thursday declined to strike down the death penalty as unconstitutional, it however overturned three death sentences and replaced them with life sentences
In a statement regarding its “landmark challenge to capital punishment, the organisation said the Court of Appeal was considering the cases of three former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Coast Guards members, Devon Gordon, Deon Greenidge and Sherwyn Harte, who in 2013, were found guilty of the robbery and murder of Dweive Kant Ramdass.
The trial judge imposed death sentences on all three defendants. The three men appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The Death Penalty Project, which has, for over three decades, been providing free legal representation to those facing the death penalty, said it offered assistance to the appellants and supported their legal team in Guyana.
“In the course of the appeal, we provided evidence to the Court from leading academics. The evidence showed that capital punishment does not act as a greater deterrent to crime than lesser forms of punishment and that there is a growing consensus that capital punishment is inherently inconsistent with respect for the rule of law.”
In its statement, the organisation said the appellants’ legal team that included attorney C.A Nigel Hughes of Guyana and Trinidad-based Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes SC, presented the legal arguments in the Court of Appeal, argued that the death penalty was unconstitutional; being arbitrary, irrational, disproportionate, and contrary to the constitutional principle of the rule of law.
“The Court of Appeal has not accepted these arguments and has declined to declare capital punishment unconstitutional in Guyana. The Court of Appeal overturned the appellants’ sentences of death, on the basis that it was unconstitutional for the trial court to hand down the death penalty automatically without affording the appellants individualised sentencing hearings. The failure to do so was a breach of their constitutional rights.
“We consider that the Court of Appeal should have declared all death sentences unconstitutional. The legal team will now explore a further appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice,” the Death Penalty Project said in its statement.
Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, SC, during his submission in the case, had contended that the retention of the death penalty as part of Guyana’s sentencing regime is a manifestation of the will of the Guyanese people exercising their sovereignty.
Nandlall had argued that while the court has the power to modify relevant legislation to ensure it is rendered consistent with fundamental rights and principles of the Constitution, the National Assembly or Parliament has not seen it fit to remove the death penalty throughout the years.
The appeal was heard by acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justices of Appeal, Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud at the Court of Appeal.
Justice Gregory, in handing down the Court’s ruling, said that the conviction is upheld, however, the death sentence was being set aside, since it was unconstitutional and breached the defendants’ fundamental human rights under the new act.
However, as it relates to the constitutionality of the death sentence, the appellate court advised that those arguments should be advanced to the High Court.
The co-executive director of the Death Penalty Project, Saul Lehrfreund said, “whilst we are pleased to see the three appellants removed from death row, the Court of Appeal’s approach to the constitutionality of the death penalty itself is extremely disappointing.
“The death penalty is inherently arbitrary and contrary to the constitutional rights of those who it affects. We remain resolved to abolishing the death penalty in Guyana and will work with the legal team in this case to mount an onward appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
“Guyana remains the only country in South America to retain the death penalty and we call on the country’s leaders to take the necessary steps to abolish the punishment,” Lehrfreundadded. (Loop)