In a judgment delivered on 15 June 2011, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled that the mandatory death sentence for felony murder is unconstitutional as it amounts to cruel and unusual treatment.
Their Lordships’ Board allowed the appeal on behalf of Mr. Nimrod Miguel, a prisoner on death row in from Trinidad & Tobago and quashed his mandatory sentence of death.
Mr. Miguel was convicted of felony murder (or more accurately “violent arrestable offence murder”) in January 2008, and his initial appeal to the Court of Appeal in Trinidad and Tobago was rejected in February 2009. Mr. Miguel appealed against his conviction and sentence to the Privy Council.
The imposition of the mandatory sentence of death on conviction for participation in a “violent arrestable offence” is particularly harsh as all persons involved in the offence are liable to be convicted of murder and automatically sentenced to death, even if the killing was done without intent to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm.
The Appellant’s mandatory sentence of death was quashed and he will now be entitled to a sentence hearing where the judge will have the discretion to impose an appropriate sentence taking all factors into account.
Saul Lehrfreund MBE and Parvais Jabbar, Human Rights Lawyers and Executive Directors of the Death Penalty Project who represented the Appellant state:
This important ruling could potentially assist many prisoners on death row who have been convicted of “violent arrestable offence murder” and were sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago. All such prisoners will now be entitled to the same remedy as Mr. Miguel and fall to be resentenced. Hopefully, the legislature will now take measures to remove the mandatory aspect of the death penalty from the statute books for all offences, including murder as it offends the Constitution and international human rights norms.
Notes to Editors:
1. Mr. Miguel was represented, on a pro bono basis, by James Dingemans QC and Daniel Tivadar from 3 Hare Court, instructed by Simons Muirhead & Burton.
2. The Death Penalty Project is an international human rights organisation housed and supported by Soho legal firm Simons Muirhead & Burton, providing free legal representation to many individuals still facing the death penalty in the Commonwealth. The organisation also receives generous support from the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Oak Foundation, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and by a grant from the Foundation of the Open Society Institute. For further information, please go to www.deathpenaltyproject.org.
3. For further information please contact Saul Lehrfreund MBE or Parvais Jabbar, Executive Directors of the Death Penalty Project Ltd at Simons Muirhead & Burton.