Resuming hangings would be a mistake, says former Bahamas AG
Amid calls for the resumption of the death penalty, former attorney general Alfred Sears said on Monday that it would be a mistake for The Bahamas to “hark back to the colonial practice of killing people”.
“The death penalty… in my view it confirms the culture of killing,” Sears said.
But Bishop Simeon Hall, former chairman of a government-appointed Crime Commission, said “Some people don’t belong in civilized society and should be subject to capital punishment.”
Sears and Hall commented on the issue after chairman of the Constitutional Commission Sean McWeeney said there has been a “very strong push” for the next constitutional referendum to deal with the death penalty.
While the government has not yet revealed what issues it intends to address following the referendum on gender equality, McWeeney said he would not be surprised if the death penalty referendum is accelerated based on the interest surrounding it.
However, Hall said there is no need for a referendum on that issue.
“I think a referendum on the death penalty would be a waste of time and foolish,” he said.
“I do not think that in the light of the current crime nightmare that we face that we can be philosophical. I believe that we must simply enforce the law regardless of whatever conventions we belong to on the international level… Let’s not waste time on a referendum.”
Calls for the resumption of capital punishment often follow a spate of violent crime.
Recently, the country recorded several murders.
Sears said while some people believe that capital punishment may be a deterrent, he does not believe it is the answer to the country’s crime problem.
“Whenever there is an escalation, we say, ‘oh [let’s enforce] the death penalty’, but we don’t really deal with it and address it in a very rational way in terms of as a community, as a country and what we hope to become and not harking back to the colonial practice of killing people,” he said.
“…I think it’s very unfortunate given the very serious spate of crime, that we have put into the public domain that the solution to the escalation of violent crime is the death penalty.
“I think when we look at the statistics…the death penalty certainly cannot be the basis of Bahamian jurisprudence. In my view, it confirms the culture of killing.”
In July last year, the Constitutional Commission recommended that the government further amend the law to “tie the hands” of the Privy Council on the death penalty issue.
The commission said to ensure that the executive is able to carry out the death penalty in a case, which the courts have determined would warrant it, the government may have to consider amending the law to prevent challenges to the death penalty.
McWeeney said the government can define in law what would be considered the worst of the worst. He added that the law can also be amended to remove the current five-year time constraint as it relates to carrying out the death penalty.
Hall said the government must send a strong message to criminals.
“If we engage and waste time on the matter of the death penalty then we are also sending a message that we aren’t willing to fight this thing head on,” he said.
“This is ludicrous. Why should we have debate on the death penalty when the law of the land says it?”
Sears, who spoke during a separate interview, said the government has to be careful on the issue. He said the government ought to concentrate on reform.
“Rather than looking for a quick fix, we need to be giving more resources to the judiciary,” he said.
“We have our Supreme Court judges scattered in six or seven different buildings.
“We also need to ensure that a trial is speedily conducted and concluded. There has to be the certainty of punishment.
“We also need to enforce the laws not only with serious cases involving guns, but we have to develop a culture within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas where small and traffic laws are enforced effectively so that we develop a culture of compliance with the law.
“…I would recommend that we take a more thoughtful stance, rather than the reactionary call for the death penalty.”
The last time capital punishment was carried out in The Bahamas was on January 6, 2000, when David Mitchell was hanged for the murders of a wealthy German couple on Abaco.