Prisoner to get compensation for death-row stay

 UNC Senator Gerald Ramdeen-
UNC Senator Gerald Ramdeen-

ANY attempt to carry out the death penalty on a man convicted almost two decades ago will be unconstitutional.

This from Justice Margaret Mohammed as she vacated the death sentence imposed on Timothy Hunte March 31, 2008, and ordered his immediate removal from death row.

Hunte, 40, is challenging the legality of his continued detention in the condemned section of the Port of Spain Prison.

Although the judge’s orders remove him from death row, Hunte’s substantive claim is still to be determined.

Hunte has spent 15 years, two months and seven days awaiting execution. After his conviction in 2008, when his final appeal before the Privy Council was dismissed, he applied to the Mercy Committee for a pardon.

In his claim, Hunte complained that his continued incarceration is in breach of his rights, and unless the court intervenes, he will remain on death row suffering cruel and unusual punishment.

In her ruling, Mohammed said Hunte was not at fault for the delays of his appeals in the local court or that his petition to the Mercy Committee was not considered.

Justice Margaret Mohammed
Justice Margaret Mohammed -

The judge referred to the landmark cases of Pratt and Morgan; and Naresh Boodram on delay in carrying out the death sentence and the commutation and substitution of a new sentence.

“While the sentence under which the claimant is detained is that of a death sentence, he cannot lawfully be executed and as long as he is detained on death row, his detention would be cruel and unusual punishment and in violation of his rights under section 5 2(b) of the Constitution.”

Hunte will also be entitled to compensation for the breaches of his rights.

She chastised the State that any harm he may suffer can be compensated with an award of damages. She said the submission was “myopic” as “an award of damages alone cannot compensate the claimant for his detention on death row.”

Mohammed said the conduct of the State in Hunte’s case was “egregious” since he has spent more than 15 years on death row awaiting execution which “money alone cannot compensate.”

In submissions, attorneys for the State said there was no real risk of Hunte being executed, so there was no need to remove him from death row or vacate the death sentence as he sought in his interim relief application.

“While I accept that there was no positive evidence from the claimant that active steps have been taken to execute him, the defendant has not given any undertaking that the claimant will not be executed.”

She referred to Glen Ashby who was hanged minutes before the Privy Council stayed his death sentence.

She said to leave him on death row would subject him to the conditions of a condemned prisoner.

“There is a duty on the State to comply with the rule of law. The conduct of the State has been egregious as it has failed in its duty to take the steps to have the claimant re-sentenced after the prescribed (five-year) period in Pratt expired; and it did not take any steps to place the claimant’s case before the mercy committee.

“Indeed, if the instant action was not filed, the claimant’s status may never have been brought to the attention of any of the relevant authorities.”

She said the State had every opportunity to bring the state of affairs to an end and failed to do so without providing an explanation.

During the intervening period until he is re-sentenced, the commissioner of prison is to keep him in an appropriate case outside of death row.

Hunte was represented by attorneys Gerald Ramdeen, Wayne Sturge, Dayadai Harripaulk and Nerisa Bala.

Speaking on behalf of the legal team, Ramdeen said Mohammed’s ruling now compels the State to pay damages for the decade of Hunte’s unlawful detention.

“These judgements represent a serious undermining of the rule of law and a serious dereliction of duty on the part of those holding high ministerial office in this country.”

“Reckless disregard for the rule of law and of the rights guaranteed under the provisions of the Constitution will if allowed to continue lead inevitably to a state of anarchy and tyranny.

“The citizens of this country are fortunate to still have the protection of an independent judiciary, the members of which, continued to do selfless service in providing protection to citizens from the actions of the State.

“The consequences of the ministerial neglect and reckless inaction that has been exposed during the past week fall unfortunately upon the taxpayers of this country. The citizens of this country deserve better from those who have the privilege of holding ministerial office.”

The State was represented by attorneys Gregory Delzin, Stefan Jaikaran and Michelle Benjamin.


"Prisoner to get compensation for death-row stay"

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