KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — The Caribbean island of Barbados plans to abolish its mandatory death penalty for murder convictions — a penalty that the government has bypassed for three decades.
No killer has been executed in Barbados since 1984 despite the law, but Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite told reporters Tuesday that the automatic penalty should be formally dropped. He said the government is preparing legislation to remove the clause that prevents judges from taking into account the circumstances in which a slaying was committed or other mitigating factors.
Brathwaite expects there will be considerable public opposition to the change because many people in Barbados "feel that once you commit murder you should forfeit your lives."
"I know it will be a battle but .... I believe that it is a better path for the country," he said, adding that the government will engage islanders in a public dialogue on the issue.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have long criticized the Caribbean island's mandatory death penalty as too harsh and in breach of international law. There is a similar mandatory death penalty law for convicted murderers in Trinidad & Tobago, which has not executed anyone since 1999.
Even though capital punishment is on the books in a number of English-speaking Caribbean islands and polls indicate strong support for the death penalty, executions are rare in the region. The last one was in St. Kitts & Nevis in 2008, when Charles Laplace was hanged for murdering his wife. That was the region's first outside Cuba since an execution in the Bahamas in 2000.
Politicians of former British colonies have long complained that the London-based Privy Council, the highest appeals court for many Caribbean countries, has stymied their attempts to execute murderers. The regional Caribbean Court of Justice is the highest court of appeals for Barbados, Belize and Guyana.
Capital punishment has been abolished for decades in the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic, and the death penalty is not used in French, British and Dutch dependencies in the Caribbean. Religious and cultural opposition to the death penalty holds sway in the U.S. Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, where jurors often reject federal prosecutors' request for capital punishment.
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