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Jamaica: House of Representatives Votes to Retain Death Penalty

(Dec. 19, 2008) In 2007, Jamaica had more than 1,400 murders. (Neil Clark, HolidayParadise Brings Back the Hangman, EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS, Nov. 29, 2008, LEXIS-NEXIS, News Library, 60 Days File.) Concern over this extremely high rate for a country of less than three million persons has led the government to promise to end Jamaica's 20-year moratorium on executions. The death penalty has long had strong public support on the island, but its use was suspended when the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council agreed to hear appeals as to whether it was constitutional. In 1993, the London-based Privy Council, which still serves as the highest court of appeal for Jamaica even though the country attained its independence in 1962, ruled that holding persons on death row for more than five years was cruel and unusual punishment that violated the Jamaican Constitution. (Pratt and Morgan v. Attorney General for Jamaica, [1993] 1 UKPC 1, (last visited Dec. 17, 2008).) This decision angered many persons in Jamaica and helped lead to the creation of the Caribbean Court of Justice [CCJ] to replace the Privy Council. However, in order to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ, as the neighboring countries of Guyana and Barbados have done, Jamaica will have to first amend its Constitution.

At the end of November 2008, Jamaica's Members of Parliament defeated a proposal to abolish the death penalty for murder by a vote of 34 to 15. (Hanging to Stay on Isle; Jamaica, THE MIRROR, Nov. 27, 2008, at 27, LEXIS-NEXIS, News Library, 60 Days File.) For the government, this represented a first step towards resuming executions of persons sentenced to death. However, Privy Council rulings on the subject will make the fulfillment of the government's election promise to bring back the death penalty very difficult and may eventually require Jamaica to amend its Constitution to abolish final appeals to the Privy Council in favor of final appeals to the CCJ (id.).