Lack of political courage
Every time the Privy Council makes a ruling making it harder for people to be executed in The Bahamas, Bahamians express frustration with the court via the broadcast and print media. The more difficult the court makes it for capital punishment to be carried out, the louder the cries to the government of this country become to do ‘something’ to cause hangings to occur.
The government says it will now bring to Parliament legislation defining various categories of murder. This legislation is necessary. Few mature jurisdictions have one murder classification, acknowledging the variety of circumstances that lead to killings.
This change of law, hopefully accompanied by reasonable sentencing guidelines, will help order the sentencing process regarding murder.
The change in the law, however, will not ensure that executions take place. Based on rulings by the Privy Council it is clear that the British court, which is our highest court, does not lean in support of capital punishment. The death penalty has been abolished in the U.K. and the last execution took place in that country in 1964.
In the 1993 Pratt-Morgan decision, the court ruled that it would be cruel and inhumane to execute a convict who had been under the sentence of death for more than five years. In the 2006 Bowe-Davis decision, the court ruled that the mandatory death sentence was unconstitutional. And in the Maxo Tido ruling this month, the court further defined the limited circumstances under which a person could be sentenced to death for murder.
The only thing left for the Privy Council to do is to evolve its earlier decision and remove the five-year rule, simply stating that the death sentence is cruel and inhumane.
It is a waste of time and resources to keep the death sentence as a penalty in The Bahamas while keeping the Privy Council as our final court of appeal. At a time when the government and judiciary both are attempting to cut the backlog of cases before the courts, at all levels, why keep a punishment that causes so many appeals and wastes resources when it is virtually impossible for it to be carried out?
The lack of political will to do what is necessary keeps this untenable situation in place. Bahamians want hangings. So, the political parties say they support capital punishment knowing it will not be carried out and that its imposition leads to endless appeals. The same lack of political will exists when it comes to the gambling issue in The Bahamas. Gambling houses are all over the country, though it is illegal for residents to gamble. Our politicians will not move to shut them down or make gambling legal. One of the steps is necessary. Yet, we as a country we choose to happily ignore rampant illegality.
The only recent movement on the gambling question is that the Free National Movement (FNM) and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) say they would hold a referendum on the issue if elected at the next general election. It is unclear what the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) would do on the issue. Because gambling is ‘too hot to handle’ those two parties want the political cover of a referendum. A political party would face the wrath of the church if it supported the legalization of gambling.
The country needs leadership on the issues of capital punishment and gambling. It needs politicians who are not afraid to do what is necessary to make our justice system more efficient and to prevent open illegality from spreading further.
If the Privy Council does not support capital punishment, it needs to be removed as a law. On gambling, we must pursue a course and be serious about it. We cannot continue on the current course regarding both issues.