Battle to save nine facing hanging

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The Independent Online
NINE DEATH-ROW inmates from Trinidad and Tobago due to be hanged this morning won a stay of execution yesterday after law lords ruled that they needed more time to hear their plea for mercy.

However, there were doubts that the Trinidad and Tobago government would abide by the decision of the Privy Council of the House of Lords. The nine men were due to be hanged in batches of three starting at 3am local time. Glen Ashby was hanged in Trinidad in1994 while the Privy Council was still hearing his case. Ashby was the last man to be hanged on the islands.

Aware of this, the law lords specifically asked representatives of the Trinidad and Tobago government who were at the hearing to wait for the final decision next week.

The gang of nine men led by Dole Chadee were all found guilty of murdering a family of four in southern Williamsville, Trinidad, in 1996.

Lawyers for the nine men said the Trinidad government is committed to the hangings. Nine graves have already been dug and last week the Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday, insisted that the executions would be carried out. He told the Trinidad Express: "All I am doing is upholding the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. I neither like or dislike. I have no personal feelings on the matter."

A member of the men's legal team explained: "Politically this is a very popular decision because there is overwhelming support for the death penalty, so there is every likelihood that they will go ahead and execute them anyway."

The system that gives British judges the right to hear appeals from countries in the West Indies is a hangover from the days of the Empire. Yester-day, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, one of the Privy Councillors, whose body denied the men their appeal last week, led the call for a change in the anachronistic system. He said, in an interview with The Lawyer magazine: "The ultimate court of appeal of state should be in that state and staffed by citizens of it, not outsiders. We are extremely unpopular. There are frictions chiefly about the death penalty." He estimated that 25 per cent of the law lords' time was taken up hearing death-row cases.

Geoffrey Bindman, a prominent human rights lawyer, said it was impossible to defend a position in which the judicial committee of the House of Lords was hearing appeals in respect of men and their crimes that had taken place 3,000 miles away. He agreed with Lord Browne-Wilkinson on the need for a Caribbean final court of appeal. He added: "I have no reason to believe that judges in the West Indies could not uphold the law in the same way as the judicial committee does."

Caribbean Justice, an organisation based in Hampshire that is working for the abolition of the death penalty, wrote to Mr Panday last week, urging him to reconsider. Its co-ordinator, Shelagh Simmons, said in the letter: "There are alternative ways of protecting the public which do not involve the taking of life and which do not have such brutalising effects on society."

Mitchell Woolf, one of the lawyers working for no fee on the men's behalf, questioned whether the law lords had enough experience in handling human rights cases.

"Although preparations are well under way for the entry into force of the Human Rights Act in the United Kingdom, the judiciary has never previously had the authority to consider human rights issues in English courts," he said.