Bahamas opposition leader to introduce death penalty bill
Opposition leader Dr Hubert Minnis said on Tuesday night he intended to table a bill in the House of Assembly on Wednesday that would remove the impediments to capital punishment in The Bahamas.
“That may be so, but what is also clear in our Bahamas is that today there is a hardened criminal element who have nothing but contempt for law, order, or human suffering, and for whom there is no respect for human life, even the lives of innocent by-standers and children.
“At the very least there should be the certainty of sure punishment, and punishment which is appropriate to the crimes committed.”
Minnis said the bill would address several weaknesses in the laws that have caused the Privy Council to overturn capital sentences for convicted murderers.
He said the bill would mandate that an appeal against the death penalty can only be made to The Bahamas’ Court of Appeal and nowhere else; and if a delay between the conviction of the murderer and the proposed date of hanging is caused then the five-year limit imposed by the Privy Council would not apply.
Minnis said the bill would also mandate that the governor general prescribe time limits for the lodging and conclusion of all appeals against conviction, or constitutional appeals, and if the same are not concluded within such time limits, the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy would be able to advise that the law should be brought into execution.
He said the bill would also seek to remove the constitutional right to trial by jury in cases of murder, manslaughter, or crimes involving the use of firearms to inflict harm or death, and particularly in instances where there is a likelihood of jury or witness tampering or intimidation.
He said in such instances the case would be heard by a panel of two Supreme Court judges along with a qualified non-judicial attorney called an assessor.
He noted that as the bill seeks to affect fundamental rights and freedoms, which are enshrined in the constitution, it would require a national constitutional referendum.
“My fellow Bahamians, it will be up to each and every one of you to decide whether these proposals become law by way of an amendment of our constitution,” he said.
The last hanging in The Bahamas was carried out on January 6, 2000 when David Mitchell was executed for murdering a German couple.
There are three men in the country who are under the sentence of death.
Chairman of the Constitutional Commission Sean McWeeney noted on Monday that capital punishment is unlikely as long as the Privy Council is the final court of appeal for the country.
The Constitutional Commission last year recommended the retention of the Privy Council as the final court of appeal, but called for the government to amend the law to increase the likelihood that the death penalty would be carried out.
It said Parliament should amend the law to “tie the hands” of the Privy Council.
In March 2006, the Privy Council ruled that the mandatory death sentence in The Bahamas was unconstitutional. Following that ruling, several men who were sentenced to death were resentenced to life in prison.
In 2011, Parliament passed a law outlining the categories of murder that would attract the death penalty.
Prime Minister Perry Christie recently told The Guardian that the government is “seriously considering” strengthening those laws.
The Bahamas hanged 50 men since 1929, according to local records.