Judges reprieve death row men

Click to follow
TWO PRISONERS facing the death penalty in Trinidad won a stay of execution yesterday after a landmark judgment in London.

The Privy Council, the final court of appeal for former colonies, decided that Darrin Thomas and Haniff Hilaire should not be hanged while their cases were being considered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

While the decision has been welcomed by human rights campaigners, it will be unpopular in Trinidad and other Caribbean countries where politicians support the death penalty as a way of curbing rising crime rates.

Thomas and Hilaire would have been the first men to be executed in Trinidad since Glen Ashby was hanged in 1994 as a stay of execution was being faxed from London.

Saul Lehrfreund, a prominent human rights lawyer, welcomed the judgment. He said: "There is judicial recognition from the Privy Council that applications to international human rights tribunals should be fully determined before any execution takes place. The status of the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court has been regarded as a critical avenue of redress for violation of human rights."

Thomas and Hilaire have been represented by lawyers from two London firms acting pro bono - Lovell, White, Durrant and Simmons and Simmons.

Thomas was convicted in 1993 of murdering a taxi driver. Hilaire was sentenced to death in 1991 for the murder of the husband of his friend's lover.

Trinidad and Tobago will withdraw from the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights in May. Shelagh Simmons, co-ordinator of Caribbean Justice, a group that campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty, said she feared that after May those on death row would not have any international remedy to humans rights violations.