government: Parliamentary democracy
state of civil and political rights: Free
constitution: 1 August 1976
legal system: based on English common law; judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court
legislative system: bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives
judicial system: Court of Appeal; Supreme Court; High Court of Justice; the highest court of appeal is the Privy Council in London
religion: 26% Catholic; 22% Hindù; 7,8% Anglican; 6% Muslim, altro
death row: at least 30 (as of end 2014, according to Amnesty International)
year of last executions: 28-7-1999
death sentences: 0
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1st Optional Protocol to the Covenant
Convention on the Rights of the Child
American Convention on Human Rights
Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty)
The sentence of death is the mandatory punishment for murder in Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidad and Tobago is a British Independent Territory for which the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council remains the last court of appeal.
Since the 1993 Pratt and Morgan ruling by the Privy Council, the death penalty can not be carried out if the prisoner concerned has been under sentence of death for more than five years, in which case the sentence is automatically commuted to life imprisonment.
On May 26, 1998, the Trinidad and Tobago Government withdrew from the First Optional Protocol to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with effect from 26 August 1998. This protocol enables individuals who believe their rights under the covenant are being violated to petition the UN Human Rights Committee. On the same day the Government re-acceded to it - subject to a reservation to exclude any communication "relating to any prisoner who is under sentence of death in respect of any matter relating to his prosecution, detention, trial, conviction, sentence or the carrying out of the death sentence on him and any matter connected therewith".
Nevertheless, an application was submitted on behalf of one death row inmate, Rawle Kennedy, who complained that the Government had breached his rights. The UN Human Rights Committee was asked to declare the reservation inconsistent with the object and purpose of the protocol and to consider his claims. The Trinidad Government argued that the committee was not competent to consider the complaint. On December 31, 1999, the Committee published its decision. It insisted that it was part of its role to interpret and determine the validity of reservations and rejected Trinidad's submissions. Crucially, the majority of the committee went on to reject Trinidad's reservation, stating that it could not accept a reservation that "singles out a certain group of individuals for lesser procedural protection than that which is enjoyed by the rest of the population". The committee therefore held that it could look at Kennedy's application.
On January 26, 1999, the Privy Council ruled on constitutional motions brought by Darrin Roger Thomas and Haniff Hilaire, who were both under sentence of death in Trinidad and Tobago, stating "that to carry out the death sentences imposed on the men before the final disposal of their respective applications to the Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights would be a breach of their constitutional rights."
On 26 May, 1999, Trinidad and Tobago also withdrew from the American Convention on Human Rights, thereby precluding the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights from considering whether Trinidad and Tobago had violated provisions of the American Convention and from referring cases to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.
On June 21, 2002 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) condemned Trinidad and Tobago for violating the American Convention on Human Rights. The Court ordered Trinidad to improve detention conditions in conformity with international standards and to amend its law, which has not been updated since 1925, under which the death penalty is mandatory and must be imposed regardless of the circumstances of the offence or any mitigating factors.
On July 6, 2004, the Privy Council unanimously confirmed that the mandatory death penalty is inhuman and degrading and contrary to international human rights law, but it was divided on a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. The judges, sitting in full court, found with five votes to four, that the clear wording of the constitutions of these two states barred them from striking the mandatory death penalty down as unconstitutional. The majority found that the constitutions protected individuals from "inhuman or degrading punishment" or "cruel and unusual treatment or punishment", but they had provisions protecting laws already existing at the time the constitutions were written - such as those instituting the automatic death penalty for murderers - from being invalidated by the constitutions. The mandatory death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados, was thus upheld.
This ruling overturned a November 2003 Privy Council ruling finding the automatic death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago unconstitutional. Then the Privy Council - sitting in a panel of five - by a narrow majority of three to two found the mandatory death sentence inconsistent with the country’s international obligations. The appeal to the Law Lords had been brought on behalf of Balkissoon Roodal, on death row since July 1999 for murder.
However the Privy Council, in the July 2004 decision, reprieved more than 100 prisoners then on death row in Trinidad, ruling it would be unfair to deprive them of the benefit of the earlier ruling.
The last executions in Trinidad took place in 1999, 11 in all. Gang leader Dole Chadee and eight members of his gang were hanged in June, over a weekend - three on Friday, three on Saturday and three the following Monday. On July 28, 1999 Anthony Briggs and Wenceslaus James were hanged, though the latter had an appeal pending before the Organisation of American States.
In August 2008, fifty-two people in Trinidad and Tobago convicted of murder had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
Public opinion in Trinidad still favours the death penalty, and its government, as other Caribbean governments, see the death-penalty as a vote winner. Trinidad and Tobago was one of the original signatories of a 2001 agreement to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), meant replace the Privy Council, whose rulings have often stood in the way of hangings in the Caribbean, as the highest court of appeal.
Caribbean countries view the CCJ as the means to throw off the last vestiges of colonialism, but human rights groups have warned that the Court may be a hanging court.
On April 16, 2005, the Caribbean Court of Justice was inaugurated in Port of Spain, Trinidad’s capital, where the CCJ has its headquarters. However, the government has as yet failed to pass the required amendment to its constitution to enable it to accede to the CCJ.
On 16 July 2015, for the first time in 22 years, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), by a majority ruling, refused to commute the death sentences imposed on two Trinidadian men who were convicted by a jury and sentenced to hang in 2008 by a High Court judge in Port of Spain. Lord Toulsen, who wrote the 30-page judgment, said the basis for their dismissal of the ap-peal against the sentences was that the convicts, Timothy Hunte and Shazad Khan, upon their ap-peal at the local Court of Appeal which was also dismissed, did not raise the argument of the con-stitutionality of their sentence and, as such, it could not be raised as a fresh issue at the JCPC. But even though the Board ruled otherwise in previous appeals where the issue was not raised at the local Court of Appeal, Lord Toulsen said these rulings were wrong and that the Board must now depart from those wrongful judgments.
On December 17, 2018, Trinidad and Tobago voted against the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.