B. Position of the State
Position of the State on Admissibility
47. As of the date of this report, the Commission had not received any observations from the State on the admissibility of Mr. Sewell’s complaint. As a consequence, the State may properly be considered to have implicitly or tacitly waived its right to object to the admissibility of the Petitioners’ claims.
Position of the State on the Merits
a. Articles 4 and 5 of the
Convention - Mandatory Nature of the Death Penalty
The State denies that the imposition of the death penalty in
Jamaica is not reserved for the most serious offenses as provided for
under Article 4(2) of the Convention. Rather, the State argues that a conviction for murder is one
of the most serious crimes and is precisely the reason why it attracts
one of the most serious penalties and moreover notes that section 2 of
the Offenses Against the Person
Act restricts capital murder only to certain categories of murder.
The State also contends that the death penalty for murder has
been universally recognized in countries that imposed that penalty both
before the Convention and after, and represents a “classic” example
of the most serious crimes under Article 4(2) of the Convention.
The State therefore characterizes the Petitioners’ argument in
this regard as, at best, a “specious” attempt to challenge the
validity of capital punishment in Jamaica.
The State contends that the Petitioners have failed to discharge
the heavy burden of proof to show that capital murder is not a most
serious crime, and that once an applicant has been given an opportunity
to establish his or her innocence and fails then that person should,
subject to the exercise of the prerogative of mercy, face the full
consequences of the law.
The State also denies the Petitioners’ contention that the
deprivation of individualized sentencing for Mr. Sewell amounts to cruel
treatment or punishment contrary to Article 5(2) of the Convention.
In this connection, the State contends that a legislature is
vested with the authority to assess the situations which have arisen or
which may arise and must form a judgment as to what laws are necessary
and desirable for the purpose of maintaining peace, order and good
government. The State
therefore argues that it cannot be for the courts or the Commission,
without possessing the evidence on which a decision of the legislature
has been based, to overrule and nullify the decision.
With respect to the issue of individualized sentencing, the State
indicates that the Constitution has vested in the Jamaican Privy Council
the power to determine whether the death penalty will be carried out in
an individual case, and that the individual circumstances of an
applicant are among the factors taken into account in determining
whether the sentence should be implemented.
In particular, relying upon sections 90 and 91 of the
Constitution of Jamaica, the State alleges that during the process of
determining whether to exercise the Prerogative of Mercy, the Jamaican
Privy Council has before them a written report of the case from the
trial judge together with such other information derived from the case
or elsewhere as the Governor General may require, and that the sentence
of death is stayed during this process.
Accordingly, the State submits that there is no basis for the
assertion that because of the mandatory nature of the death penalty in
Jamaica, the alleged victim could be deprived of consideration based
upon his personal circumstances and the circumstances of his particular
b. Article 5 of the Convention -
Conditions of Detention and Method of Execution in Jamaica
The State raises several arguments in relation to the Petitioners’
allegations regarding Mr. Sewell’s conditions of detention.
First, the State contends that notwithstanding the contents of
the reports from International and Domestic Monitoring Bodies, a
generalized position cannot be adopted each time a complaint is lodged
by an inmate. Rather,
complaints must be dealt with individually and each case must be
considered on its individual merits.
The State also notes in this connection that some of the reports
relied upon by the Petitioners date back as far as 1983, with the most
recent being 1993, and contends that, without accepting the content of
the report, St Catherine District Prison has undergone improvements
since 1993 rendering reliance on the reports questionable.
Further, the States denies the Petitioners’ allegation as to
Mr. Sewell’s particular conditions of detention, based upon three
affidavits, one dated November 11, 1998 by Zepheniah Page, a warder
employed at St. Catherine District Prison, a second dated November 11,
1998 by Melbourne Jones, a Superintendent employed at the same prison,
and a third dated November 26, 1998 by Dr. Raymoth Notice, a medical
doctor also employed at the prison.
The contents of the affidavits indicate, as suggested by the
Petitioners, that they were prepared for use in litigation before the
Supreme Court of Jamaica in the matter of Neville
Lewis v. The Attorney General of Jamaica and the Superintendent of the
St. Catherine District Prison.
The affidavits provide information concerning the conditions of
detention of the applicant in that case, Neville Lewis, on death row at
St. Catherine District Prison in Jamaica.
Based upon these affidavits, the State contends that the
conditions of detention of death row prisoners at St. Catherine District
Prison include the following:
(a) On admission to the Facility each prisoner convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death is given a slop pail, a jug for holding water, a drinking cup and a blanket and then taken to a cell block where condemned prisoners are kept.
(b) Each prisoner is kept in a separate cell. Each cell is approximately 9 feet long, 6 feet wide and 10 feet high. The walls and floor of the cells are made of concrete. The floor is very smooth. The walls are painted but the inmates paste pictures from magazines and newspaper on the walls. Inside each cell is a covered mattress made from foam like any mattress, which can be bought in any department store. In the cell there is a concrete elevation on which the mattress is placed.
(c) Each prisoner on death row is issued monthly with toilet paper, bath soap and toothpaste. On request, each prisoner is entitled to a bible, other reading material and stationary.
(d) The cells are in rows and they face each other and are separated by a corridor approximately 13 feet wide. There are bright florescent lamps in the ceiling along the corridor. These lights are never turned off. Each cell has a socket above the door on the outside of the cells. Some inmates place wires inside the sockets to light bulbs inside their cells and others attach the wires to hot plates, which they use for cooking.
(e) There are open spaces at the two sides of the building where the inmates are housed. The space on one side is about 9 feet x 120 feet and on the other side is about 36 feet x 110 feet. At the front there is an open space 27 feet x 45 feet. The ventilation in the cells is very good as air flows freely through the doors of the cells.
(f) Each prisoner cleans his cell daily under the supervision of a warder. The prisoners are supplied with disinfectant. Cleaning the cells entails wiping the floor clean with a sponge or a cloth. The prisoners sweep the corridor, which runs along the cells, daily.
(g) The slop pail, which is issued to the prisoners, has a cover. If a prisoner uses the pail during the day, he requests permission from a warder on duty and is allowed to empty the pail in a general area provided for that purpose. A pipe with running water is at the place where pails are emptied and each prisoner is given disinfectant to wash his bucket when he empties it. If a prisoner uses the pail in the night, he is allowed to empty it the following morning when the warder arrives on duty.
(h) Condemned men are allowed to keep radios in their cells, provided the radio is operated with batteries. The light reflecting in the cells is adequate for prisoners to read during the day or at nights.
(i) There is a daily routine for each prisoner on the condemned cells. At approximately 8:30 am the warder unlocks the cell door and allows the prisoner to empty his slop pail. He is allowed to wash his face and brush his teeth. He is then returned to his cell and he is given breakfast. After breakfast, he is allowed to exercise in the open area at the side of the building and take his bath. He may also, if he wishes, be allowed to see the doctor, attend at the administrative office, his attorney-at-law, religious adviser or any other visitor. The time spent varies depending on the circumstances. He is then returned to his cell, where he is given lunch. In the afternoon the cell is unlocked and the process is repeated, (i.e. empty slop pail, exercise, etc.). He is then returned to his cell and given another meal. The cell is then locked until the following morning.
(j) The inmates are given special care and attention. The warders develop special relationships with them and there is no rigid enforcement of any rules regarding the time spent in activities outside their cells.
(k) They are allowed to play football in the open space on a regular basis, although there is an unwritten rule that no more than two prisoners should be unlocked at any one time.
(l) There is a senior officer at the Facility who communicates with the prisoners on a daily basis to take note of any complaints which they may have and to assess the general conditions of the cells and the working areas. Reports are submitted to the Superintendent who has responsibility for the Facility and for the welfare of the prisoners. This process is carried out not only to ensure that prisoners are taken care of but also to ensure that warders are performing their duties.
All complaints made by prisoners are dealt with promptly.
(n) If a prisoner is abused he sometimes refuses to leave his cell and demands that he see the Superintendent who has responsibility for the prison. In any such circumstance, the Superintendent goes to see the prisoner, takes his complaint, and takes appropriate actions against the offender, generally to the satisfaction of the complaining prisoner.
(o) the St. Catherine District Prison houses a Medical Center that is staffed by two registered medical practitioners, a general practitioner and a psychiatrist. There is also a registered dentist. A matron who is also a registered nurse, a qualified social worker and several medical orderlies assist these doctors.
(p) The general practitioner attends the Medical Center daily and when he is not on duty, he is on call. The dentist attends at the medical Center three days every week.
(q) when a prisoner makes a complaint of a medical nature, arrangements are made with the medical orderly for that person to be taken to see the doctor at the very earliest opportunity. If the compliant is of a serious nature and a doctor is not on duty at the time or cannot be located, the prisoner is immediately dispatched to the Spanish Town General Hospital, which is located in the vicinity of the prison.
Further, the State argues that even if the Petitioners’
allegations are proven to be true, they could not by themselves result
in the commutation of Mr. Sewell’s death sentence.
The State relies in this regard on the decision of the Judicial
Committee of the Privy Council in the Thomas
and Hilaire Case in which the applicants alleged that they had been
detained in cramped and foul smelling cells and deprived of exercise or
access to the open air for long periods of time.
According to the State, the Judicial Committee of the Privy
Council held in this case that even if the conditions of detention
alleged by those applicants constituted cruel and unusual treatment or
punishment, commutation of sentence would not be the appropriate remedy.
Also on the issue of prison conditions, the State relies upon the
decision of the Jamaican Court of Appeal in the Patrick
Taylor et al. Case in which the applicant is said to have alleged
the following conditions of detention: when he was first arrested he was
assaulted; when he was re-arrested he remained in handcuffs for three
days; he was beaten while in lock up; while awaiting trial he shared a
cell with 25 other men; there was no light in his cell and his exercise
each day was limited to 42 minutes; although he was supplied with soap
and toilet tissue, neither toothbrush nor toothpaste was provided for
use; he was given food and drink in plastic bags; and the food consisted
of very small rations and was poorly cooked.
According to the State, the Jamaican Court of Appeal held that
Mr. Taylor's conditions did not amount to torture, or to inhuman or
degrading punishment or other treatment and therefore that the prison
conditions as alleged did not present any matter for argument to secure
a commutation of death sentence.
The State similarly relies upon the views of the UN Human Rights
Committee in the case F. Deidrick v. Jamaica,
in which the Committee is said to have determined that the
conditions of detention alleged by the complainant did not raise an
issue under Article 7 or 10(1) of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights and were therefore inadmissible.
According to the State, the conditions of detention alleged by
the applicant in that case included the fact that he was held on death
row for 8 years, confined to his cell for 22 hours per day, spent most
of his waking hours isolated from other people with nothing whatsoever
to keep him occupied, and was forced to spend much of his time in
enforced darkness. As some
of Mr. Sewell’s allegations as to his conditions of detention are
similar to those in the Deidrick
Case, the State denies that the Petitioners’ claims constitute a
breach of Article 5 of the Convention or of the UN Minimum Standard
Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
With respect to the Petitioners' contentions regarding the method
of execution in Jamaica, the State argues that Article 5 of the
Convention must be read subject to Article 4(2), which provides for the
imposition of the death penalty. According to the State, the inclusion of Article 4(2) clearly
demonstrates that the Convention must contemplate that a person will
suffer some form of ill treatment when carrying out a sentence of death
and that it is unaware of any form of execution that does not involve
some form of ill-treatment.
The State also argues that the Petitioners have failed to
identify an acceptable form of execution that would not be considered to
conflict with Article 5 of the Convention and therefore that the
Petitioners’ argument must fail.
On this basis, the State denies that the carrying out of the
death penalty by hanging conflicts or breaches the provisions of Article
5 of the Convention.
Articles 7(5) and 8(1) – Trial within a Reasonable Time
In respect of the Petitioners’ allegations regarding the delay
in trying Mr. Sewell, the State indicated in its response to the
petition that it “undertakes to immediately investigate the facts
surrounding the applicant’s trial and submit the results to the
Commission as soon as they are complete.” As of the date of the
present report, the Commission has not received any information from the
State concerning the Petitioners’ allegations on this issue.
Articles 8, 24 and 25 – Denial of Access to Court
The State argues that Articles 24 and 25 of the Convention
dealing with the right to equal protection and the right to judicial
protection do not place an obligation on State Parties to provide legal
aid for Constitutional Motions. Rather,
the State argues that Article 8(2)(e) of the Convention only places an
obligation on State Parties to provide legal aid for criminal
proceedings, and as a Constitutional Motion is not a criminal
proceeding, the State denies that there has been a breach of the
The State also notes that by virtue of section 3 of the Poor
Prisoners’ Defense Act, a Resident Magistrate or a Judge of the
Supreme Court is obliged to grant an accused who is financially unable
to retain counsel a legal aid certificate which entitles him to free
legal aid in the preparation and conduct of his defense.
Competence of the Commission
The State deposited its instrument of accession to the American
Convention on August 7, 1978.
The Petitioners allege that the State has violated Articles
4, 5, 8, 24 and 25 of the American Convention, in respect of acts or
omissions that transpired after the State's accession to the Convention.
Mr. Sewell is a natural person, and the Petitioners were
authorized under Article 44 of the Convention to lodge a petition on his
behalf with the Commission. The
Commission therefore finds that it is competent to consider Mr. Sewell’s
As indicated in Part III(A)(2), the Commission has not previously
determined the admissibility of the complaints in Mr. Sewell’s
petition. Rather, in light
of the exceptional circumstances of this matter as a death penalty case
and the fact that the parties have had numerous opportunities to present
observations on the admissibility and merits of the Petitioners’
claims, and consistent with its past practice in petitions of this
the Commission decided to consider the admissibility of the
Petitioners’ claims together with the merits.
According to Articles 46(1)(c) and 47(d) of the Convention and
Article 33 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure, the admissibility
of a petition is subject to the requirement that the subject of the
petition is not pending in another international proceeding for
settlement and is not substantially the same as one previously studied
by the Commission or by another international organization. The Petitioners in Mr. Sewell’s case have indicated that
the subject of their complaint has not been submitted for examination by
any other procedure of international investigation or settlement.
The State has not contested the issue of duplication.
The Commission therefore finds no bar to consideration of this
case under Articles 46(1)(c) or 47(d) of the Convention.
Exhaustion of Domestic Remedies
Article 46(1)(a) of the Convention and Article 31(1) of the
Commission’s Rules of Procedure specify that, in order for a case to
be admitted, remedies of the domestic legal system must have been
pursued and exhausted in accordance with generally accepted principles
of international law.
Exhaustion of domestic remedies need not be demonstrated by a
victim, however, in the event that the State against which the complaint
is lodged waives this requirement.
In this regard, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has held
that the rule which requires the prior exhaustion of domestic remedies
is designed for the benefit of the State, because the rule seeks to
excuse the State from having to respond to charges before an
international body for acts imputed to it before it has had an
opportunity to remedy them by internal means.
According to the Court, the requirement is thus considered a
means of defense and, as such, waivable, even tacitly.
Further, a waiver, once effected, is irrevocable.
70. Given the absence of any observations from the State on the issue of exhaustion of domestic remedies in this case, the Commission finds that Jamaica implicitly or tacitly waived any challenge with regard to the exhaustion of remedies by Mr. Sewell in domestic proceedings. The Commission therefore does not consider the present case to be inadmissible by reason of Article 46(1)(a) of the Convention or Article 31 of its Rules of Procedure.
Timeliness of the Petition
Article 46(1)(b) of the Convention and Article 32 of the
Commission’s Rules of Procedure provide that the admission of a
petition is subject to the requirement that the petition be lodged with
the Commission in a timely manner, namely within a period of six months
from the date on which the party alleging violations of his rights was
notified of the decision that exhausted domestic remedies.
In the instant case, the Commission has established that the
State of Jamaica waived its right to argue that domestic remedies were
not exhausted, and so the requirement contained in Article 46(1)(b) of
the American Convention does not apply.
However, the Convention’s requirement that domestic remedies be
exhausted is independent of the requirement that the petition be lodged
within six months following the judgment exhausting domestic remedies.
The Commission must therefore decide whether this petition was
submitted within a reasonable time.
In this regard, the Commission notes that the Judicial Committee
of the Privy Council dismissed Mr. Sewell’s petition for Special Leave
to Appeal on July 17, 2000 and that the Petitioners lodged the present
petition with the Commission on November 20, 2000. In light of the particular circumstances of this petition,
the Commission holds that it was submitted within a reasonable period of
Article 47(b) of the Convention and Article 34(a) of the
Commission’s Rules of Procedure require a petition to be declared
inadmissible if it does not state facts that tend to establish a
violation of the rights guaranteed by the Convention or other applicable
instruments. Article 47(d)
of the Convention and Article 34(b) of the Commission’s Rules of
Procedure deem inadmissible any communication where the statements of
the petitioner or the State indicate that the petition is manifestly
groundless or out of order.
The Petitioners in the present case have alleged that the State
has violated Mr. Sewell’s rights under Articles 4, 5, 8, 24 and 25 of
the Convention. In
addition, the Petitioners have provided factual allegations, described
in Part III(A)(1) of this
Report, that, in the Commission’s view, tend to establish that these
alleged violations may be well-founded.
75. The Commission therefore finds that the Petitioners have presented colorable claims of violations of Mr. Sewell’s rights under the Convention for the purposes of Articles 47(b) and 47(c) of the Convention and Articles 34(a) and (b) of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure.
Conclusions on Admissibility
In accordance with the foregoing analysis of the requirements of
Articles 46 and 47 of the Convention and Articles 31 to 34 of the
Commission’s Rules of Procedure, and without prejudging the merits of
the matter, the Commission decides to declare as admissible the claims
presented on behalf of Dave Sewell in respect of Articles 4, 5, 8, 24
and 25 of the Convention.
As detailed in Part III(A)(1) of this Report, the Petitioners in
the present case have alleged the following violations of the Convention
in respect of Mr. Sewell:
(a) The State is responsible for violating Articles 4(1), 5(1), 5(2) and
8(1) of the Convention in respect of Mr. Sewell, in conjunction with
violations of Articles 1(1) and 2 of the Convention, by sentencing him
to a mandatory death penalty.
(b) The State is responsible for violating Articles 5(1) and 5(2) of the Convention in respect of Mr. Sewell, in conjunction with violations of Article 1(1) of the Convention, by reason of his conditions of detention.
(c) The State is responsible for violating Articles 7(5) and 8(1) of the Convention in respect of Mr. Sewell, in conjunction with violations of Article 1(1) of the Convention, by reason of the delay in trying Mr. Sewell;
(d) the State is responsible for violating Articles 8(1) and 25 of the Convention in respect of Mr. Sewell, in conjunction with violations of Article 1(1) of the Convention, by reason of the denial to Mr. Sewell of recourse to a Constitutional Motion for the determination of his rights under domestic law and the Convention in connection with the criminal proceedings against him.
Standard of Review
In response to the various standards that the parties have
suggested should guide the Commission in determining the issues before
it, the Commission wishes to clarify that it will undertake its review
of the merits of the Petitioners' claims in accordance with the
Commission's heightened scrutiny test.
According to this standard of review, the Commission will subject
the parties' allegations to an enhanced level of scrutiny in order to
ensure that any deprivation of life effected by a State Party pursuant
to a death sentence complies strictly with the provisions of the
Convention, including in particular Articles 4, 5 and 8 of the
This heightened scrutiny test is, as the Commission has
previously recognized, consistent with the restrictive approach to the
death penalty provisions of human rights treaties taken by the
Commission and other international authorities.
The Commission also wishes to note that its application of a
heightened level of scrutiny in capital cases is not precluded by the
Commission's fourth instance formula.
According to this formula, the Commission in principle will not
review the judgments issued by the domestic courts acting within their
competence and with due judicial guarantees, unless a petitioner’s
allegations entail a possible violation of any of the rights set forth
in the Convention.
As the Petitioners’ allegations entail independent
violations of Articles 4, 5, 8, 24 and 25 of the American Convention in
respect of Mr. Sewell, the fourth instance formula has no application in
the present matter.
2. Articles 4, 5 and 8 of the
Convention - The Mandatory
Nature of the Death Penalty
Mr. Sewell has been Sentenced to a Mandatory Death Penalty
The record in the present case indicates that Mr. Sewell was
convicted of capital murder in Jamaica and sentenced to death.
It also indicates that the death sentence was imposed pursuant to
legislation in Jamaica that prescribes the death penalty as the only
punishment available when a defendant is found guilty of capital murder.
More particularly, as indicated in Part I of this Report and
confirmed by the State in its observations, Mr. Sewell was convicted of
the crime of capital murder under Jamaica's Offences
Against the Person Act, as amended by the Offences
Against the Person (Amendment) Act, 1992.
2(1)(d)(i) of this Act defines
capital murder as including the following:
2.(1) Subject to subsection (2), murder committed in the following circumstances is capital murder, that is to say-
any murder committed by a person in the course or furtherance of-
82. Section 3(1) of the Act in turn prescribes the death penalty as the mandatory punishment for any person convicted of a capital offence as defined under Section 2 the Act:
2(1) Every person who is convicted of capital murder shall be sentenced to death and upon every such conviction the court shall pronounce sentence of death, and the same may be carried into execution as heretofore has been the practice; and every person so convicted or sentenced pursuant to subsection (1A), shall, after sentence, be confined in some safe place within the prison, apart from all other prisoners.
Where by virtue of this section a person is sentenced to death, the form of the sentence shall be to the effect only that he is to "suffer death in the manner authorized by law."
83. The Act therefore prescribes death as the mandatory punishment for all individuals convicted of capital murder. Capital murder in turn includes murder committed in the course or furtherance of certain other offences, including robbery, burglary, housebreaking, and arson in relation to a dwelling house. Accordingly, once the jury found Mr. Sewell guilty of capital murder, the death penalty was the only available punishment. The Commission notes that the State has not denied the mandatory nature of Mr. Sewell’s punishment, but rather argues that the exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy is sufficient to take into account the individual circumstances of Mr. Sewell’s case.
Therefore, as the Commission has determined in previous cases,
the crimes of capital murder in Jamaica can be regarded as
being subject to a “mandatory death penalty,” namely a death
sentence that the law compels the sentencing authority to impose based
solely upon the category of crime for which the defendant is found
responsible. Once a
defendant is found guilty of the crime of capital murder, the death
penalty must be imposed. Accordingly,
mitigating circumstances cannot be taken into account by a court in
sentencing an individual to death once a conviction for capital murder
has been rendered. The
Commission notes, however, that there is one exception to this rule
under Jamaican law. Section
3(2) of the Act specifically
exempts from the death penalty female offenders who are convicted of
offenses punishable with death, but who are found by a jury to be
85. Therefore, the penalty for a female offender who is convicted of capital murder, but who is found by a jury to be pregnant, is a sentence of imprisonment with or without hard labor for life rather than a sentence of death.
86. As indicated in Part III(A)(3)(a), the Petitioners have alleged that Mr. Sewell’s sentencing to a mandatory death penalty violates one or more of Articles 4(1), 4(2), and 5(2) of the American Convention, principally because the sentencing process in Jamaica does not provide an opportunity for offenders to present mitigating factors concerning their personal circumstances or those of their offense in determining whether the death penalty is an appropriate punishment.
Mr. Sewell’s Mandatory Death Sentence under Articles 4, 5 and 8
of the Convention
In previous cases involving the application of capital punishment
under the Offenses Against the
Person Act in Jamaica, the Commission has evaluated the mandatory
nature of the death penalty under that legislation in light of Article 4
(right to life), Article 5 (right to humane treatment) and Article 8
(right to a fair trial) of the Convention and the principles underlying
those provisions. It has
also considered the mandatory death penalty in light of pertinent
authorities in other international and domestic jurisdictions, to the
extent that those authorities may inform the appropriate standards to be
applied under the American Convention.
Based upon these considerations and analysis, the Commission has
reached the following conclusions.
The Commission has found that the supervisory bodies of
international human rights instruments have subjected the death penalty
provisions of their governing instruments to a rule of restrictive
interpretation, to ensure that the law strictly controls and limits the
circumstances in which a person may be deprived of his life by
authorities of the state. This
includes strict compliance with standards of due process.
In addition, the Commission has identified a general recognition
by domestic and international authorities that the death penalty is a
form of punishment that differs in substance as well as in degree in
comparison with other means of punishment.
It is the absolute form of punishment that results in the
forfeiture of the most valuable of rights, the right to life and, once
implemented, is irrevocable and irreparable.
The Commission has accordingly determined that the fact that the
death penalty is an exceptional form of punishment must also be
considered in interpreting Article 4 of the American Convention.
Finally, the Commission has noted and relied upon the
determination by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in its
Advisory Opinion OC-3/83 that under the terms of Article 4 of the
Convention, “certain considerations involving the person of the
defendant, which may bar the imposition or application of the death
penalty, must be taken into account” by States Parties that have not
abolished the death penalty.
In the context of these interpretive rules and principles, the
Commission has evaluated mandatory death penalty legislation under
Articles 4, 5 and 8 of the Convention and has concluded that imposing
the death penalty through mandatory sentencing, as Jamaica has done in
respect of crime of capital murder, is not consistent with the terms of
Articles 4(1), 5(1), 5(2), 8(1) and 8(2) of the Convention and the
principles underlying those provisions.
The Commission observes in this regard that since its
determination in the case of Haniff
Hilaire v. Trinidad and Tobago
in 1999 that the mandatory death penalty was
inconsistent with the rights protected in the inter-American system,
other international and regional tribunals have reached similar
conclusions. A majority in
the UN Human Rights Committee, for example, has found the implementation
of a death sentenced based upon a mandatory sentencing law to violate
the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s life under Article
6(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In addition, a majority of the Eastern Caribbean Court of
Appeal determined in April of 2001 that the mandatory death penalty in
Saint Vincent and Saint Lucia constitutes inhuman or degrading
punishment or other treatment contrary to the constitutions of those
92. In light of these inherent deficiencies in the mandatory death penalty, the Commission has determined that imposing the death penalty in a manner that conforms with Articles 4, 5 and 8 of the Convention requires an effective mechanism by which a defendant may present representations and evidence to the sentencing court as to whether the death penalty is a permissible or appropriate form of punishment in the circumstances of his case. In the Commission’s view, this includes, but is not limited to, representations and evidence as to whether any of the factors incorporated in Article 4 of the Convention may prohibit the imposition of the death penalty. 
In reaching this conclusion, the Commission has identified a
principle common to those democratic jurisdictions that have retained
the death penalty, according to which the death penalty should only be
implemented through “individualized” sentencing.
mechanism, the defendant is entitled to present submissions and evidence
in respect of all potentially mitigating circumstances relating to his
or her person or offense, and the court imposing sentence is afforded
discretion to consider these factors in determining whether the death
penalty is a permissible or appropriate punishment.
Mitigating factors may relate to the gravity of the particular
offense or the degree of culpability of the particular offender, and may
include such factors as the offender’s character and record,
subjective factors that might have motivated his or her conduct, the
design and manner of execution of the particular offense, and the
possibility of reform and social readaptation of the offender.
The Commission has also previously observed that Jamaica has
already considered it appropriate to prescribe in its legislation a
mechanism by which a jury may determine whether an individual female
offender should be spared the death penalty because she is pregnant.
has therefore considered that the foundation already exists under
Jamaican law to extend this mechanism, or to develop a comparable
mechanism, to permit a jury to consider other potentially mitigating
factors pertaining to an offender in determining whether the death
penalty should be imposed in the circumstances of the offender's case.
Applying these findings in the context of the case presently
before it, the Commission has confirmed that Mr. Sewell was convicted of
the offense of capital murder under Jamaica's Offences
Against the Person Act. Once
an offender is found guilty of capital murder under that Act,
section 3(1) of the Act requires a court to impose the death penalty.
With the exception of the provisions in sections 3(2) to 3(6) of
the Act governing pregnant
offenders, no provisions in the Act have been identified that permit a judge or jury to consider the
personal circumstances of an offender or his or her offense, such as the
offender’s record or character, in determining whether the death
penalty is an appropriate penalty for a particular offender in the
circumstances of his or her case. Upon
satisfying the elements of section 3(1) of the Act,
death is the automatic penalty.
Consequently, the Commission concludes that once Mr. Sewell was
found guilty of his crimes, the law in Jamaica did not permit a hearing
by the courts as to whether the death penalty was a permissible or
appropriate penalty. There
was no opportunity for the trial judge or the jury to consider such
factors as Mr. Sewell’s character or record, the nature or gravity of
Mr. Sewell’s, or the subjective factors that may have motivated his
conduct, in determining whether the death penalty was an appropriate
punishment. Mr. Sewell was
likewise precluded from making representations on these matters, as a
consequence of which there is no information on the record as to
potential mitigating factors that might have been presented to the trial
court in Mr. Sewell’s circumstances.
The court sentenced Mr. Sewell based solely upon the category of
crime for which he had been found responsible.
In this context, and in light of the Commission's prior analysis
of mandatory death penalties under the Convention, the Commission
concludes that the State violated Mr. Sewell’s rights under Articles
4(1), 5(1), 5(2), and 8(1) of the Convention, in conjunction with
violations of Articles 1(1) and 2 of the Convention, by sentencing him
to a mandatory death penalty.
With respect to Article 4(1) of the Convention, the Commission
concludes that the trial court was compelled under the State’s
legislation to impose a death sentence upon Mr. Sewell, with no
discretion to consider Mr. Sewell’s personal characteristics and the
particular circumstances of his offenses to determine whether death was
an appropriate punishment. Likewise,
Mr. Sewell was not provided with an opportunity to present
representations and evidence as to whether the death penalty was an
appropriate punishment in the circumstances of his case.
Rather, the death penalty was imposed upon Mr. Sewell
automatically and without principled distinction or rationalization as
to whether it was an appropriate form of punishment in the particular
circumstances of his case. Moreover,
the propriety of the sentence imposed was not susceptible to any
effective form of judicial review, and Mr. Sewell’s execution and
death at the hands of the State are imminent, his conviction having been
upheld on appeal to the highest court in Jamaica.
The Commission therefore concludes that the State has by this
conduct violated Mr. Sewell’s right under Article 4(1) of the
Convention to have his life respected and not to be arbitrarily deprived
of his life.
The Commission further concludes that the State, by sentencing
Mr. Sewell to a mandatory penalty of death absent consideration of his
individual circumstances, has failed to respect Mr. Sewell’s physical,
mental and moral integrity contrary to Article 5(1) of the Convention,
and has subjected him to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or
treatment in violation of Article 5(2).
The State sentenced Mr. Sewell to death solely because he was
convicted of a predetermined category of crime.
Accordingly, the process to which Mr. Sewell has been subjected
would deprive him of his most fundamental right, his right to life,
without considering his personal circumstances and the particular
circumstances of his offense. Not
only does this treatment fail to recognize and respect Mr. Sewell’s
integrity as an individual human being, but in all of the circumstances
has subjected him to treatment of an inhuman or degrading nature.
Consequently, the State has violated Article 5(1) and 5(2) of the
Convention in respect of Mr. Sewell.
Finally, the Commission concludes that the State has violated
Article 8(1) of the Convention, when read in conjunction with the
requirements of Article 4 of the Convention, by subjecting him to a
mandatory death sentence. By
denying Mr. Sewell an opportunity to make representations and present
evidence to the trial judge as to whether his crime permitted or
warranted the ultimate penalty of death, under the terms of Article 4 of
the Convention or otherwise, the State also denied Mr. Sewell the right
to fully answer and defend the criminal accusations against him,
contrary to Article 8(1) of the Convention.
Also consistent with its previous findings, and contrary to the
State’s submissions, the Commission considers that the exercise of the
Prerogative of Mercy by the Jamaican Privy Council is not consistent
with, and therefore cannot serve as a substitute for, the standards
prescribed under Articles 4, 5 and 8 of the Convention that are
applicable to the imposition of mandatory death sentences. As explained above, these requirements include legislative or
judicially-prescribed principles and standards to guide courts in
determining the propriety of death penalties in individual cases, and an
effective right of appeal or judicial review in respect of the sentence
imposed. The Prerogative of
Mercy process in Jamaica, even as informed by the minimal requirements
of fairness prescribed in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council’s
Neville Lewis et al. judgment,
does not satisfy these standards and therefore cannot serve
as an alternative for individualized sentencing in death penalty
It follows from the Commission’s findings that, should the
State execute Mr. Sewell pursuant to his death sentence, this would
constitute further egregious and irreparable violations of his rights
under Article 4 of the Convention.
F. Deidrick v. Jamaica, Communication Nº 619/1995.
The State indicated in this regard that it adopts the
decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Pratt and
Morgan and Larry Raymond Jones and states that as Mr. Sewell was duly
convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death by hanging, his
sentence is not arbitrary, cruel, inhuman, degrading or in breach of
Articles 5(1) or 5(2) of the Convention.
In its observations, the State describes Section 3 of the
Poor Prisoners’ Defense Act as follows: “Where it appears to a
certifying authority, (certifying authority is defined as a Resident
Magistrate or a Judge of the Supreme Court), that the means of a
person charged with or as the case may be convicted of a scheduled
offense are insufficient to enable that person to obtain legal aid,
the certifying authority shall grant in respect of that person a legal
aid certificate which shall entitle him to free legal aid in the
preparation and conduct of his defense in the appropriate proceedings
or in such of the appropriate proceedings as may be specified in the
legal aid certificate and to have counsel or solicitor assigned to him
for that purpose in the prescribed manner.”
Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the
Inter-American System, OEA/Ser.L/V/I.4 rev.8 (22 May 2001), p. 48.
See e.g. Desmond
McKenzie et al. v. Jamaica, Case 12.023, Annual Report of the IACHR
1999; Juan Raul Garza v. United States, Case 12.243, Report Nº 52/01,
Annual Report of the IACHR 2000.
I/A Court H.R., Loayza Tamayo Case, Preliminary
Objections, Judgment of January 31, 1996, Series C Nº 25, para. 40.
See Baptiste v. Grenada, Report Nº 38/00, Annual
Report of the IACHR 1999, p. 721, at p. 738; McKenzie et al. v.
Jamaica, Report Nº 41/00, Annual
Report of the IACHR 1999, p. 918, at p. 967.
See e.g. McKenzie et
al. Case, supra, para.
See Santiago Marzioni v. Argentina, Report Nº
Report of the IACHR 1996, p. 76, paras. 48-52. See also Clifton
Wright v. Jamaica, Case 9260, Annual
Report of the IACHR 1987-88, p. 154.
Offences Against the Person Act, as amended by the
Offences Against the Person (Amendment) Act, 1992 (13 October 1992),
McKenzie et al. Case, supra, para.
Against the Person Act, sections 3(1) to 3(6).
McKenzie et al. Case,
supra, para. 186-187, citing
I/A Court H.R., Advisory Opinion OC-3/83 of September 8, 1983,
Restrictions to the Death Penalty (Arts. 4(2) and 4(4) of the American
Convention on Human Rights), Annual
Report 1984, p. 31,
para. 52 (finding that the text of Article 4 of the Convention
as a whole reveals a clear tendency to restrict the scope of the death
penalty both as far as its imposition and its application are
concerned.); Anthony McLeod v. Jamaica, Communication Nº 734/1997,
U.N.Doc CCPR/C/62/734/1997. See
similarly Baptiste Case, supra,
McKenzie et al. Case,
supra, para. 188, citing, inter
alia, Woodson v. North Carolina 49 L Ed 2d 944, 961 (finding that
“the penalty of death is qualitatively different from a sentence of
imprisonment, however long. Death, in its finality, differs more from
life imprisonment than a 100-year prison term differs from one of only
a year or two. Because of that qualitative difference, there is a
corresponding difference in the need for reliability in the
determination that death is the appropriate punishment in a specific
para. 189, citing Advisory Opinion OC-3/83, supra,
para. 55 (observing with regard to Article 4 of the Convention that
“three types of limitations can be seen to be applicable to States
Parties which have not abolished the death penalty. First, the
imposition or application of this sanction is subject to certain
procedural requirements whose compliance must be strictly observed and
reviewed. Second, the application of the death penalty must be limited
to the most serious common crimes not related to political offenses.
Finally, certain considerations involving the person of the defendant,
which may bar the imposition or application of the death penalty, must
be taken into account.”).
193-207. See similarly
Baptiste Case, supra, paras.
Haniff Hilaire v. Trinidad and Tobago, Report Nº 66/99,
Case Nº 11.816 (April 1999).
UNHRC, Eversley Thompson v. St. Vincent and the
Grenadines, Communication Nº 806/1998 (October 18, 2000).
Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal, Newton Spence v. The
Queen, Peter Hughes v. The Queen, Criminal Appeal Nos. 20 of 1998 and
14 of 1997, Judgment, 2 April 2001.
McKenzie et al. Case,
supra, para. 207.
McKenzie et al. Case,
supra, paras. 208, 212-219,
citing Woodson v. North Carolina 49 L Ed 2d 944 (U.S.S.C.); The State
v. Makwanyane and McHunu, Judgment, Case Nº CCT/3/94 (6 June 1995)
(Constitutional Court of the Republic of South Africa); Bachan Singh
v. State of Punjab (1980) 2 S.C.C. 475 (Supreme Court of India). See
also Baptiste Case, supra.
As noted above, sections 3(2) to 3(6) of the Act prescribe
a specific procedure by which a jury is to determine whether a
defendant is pregnant for the purposes of section 3(1) of the Act:
Where a woman convicted of an offence punishable with death is found
in accordance with the provisions of this section to be pregnant, the
sentence to be passed on her shall be a sentence of imprisonment with
or without hard labour for life instead of sentence of death.
Where a woman convicted of an offence punishable with death alleges
that she is pregnant, or where the court before whom a woman is so
convicted thinks fit to order, the question whether or not the woman
is pregnant shall, before sentence is passed on her, be determined by
Subject to the provisions of this subsection, the said jury shall be
the trial jury, that is to say the jury to whom she was given in
charge to be tried for the offence, and the members of the jury need
not be re-sworn:
if any member of the trial jury, after the conviction, dies or is
discharged by the court as being through illness incapable of
continuing to act for any other cause, the inquiry as to whether or
not the woman is pregnant shall proceed without him; and
where there is no trial jury, or where a jury have disagreed as to
whether the women is or is not pregnant, or have been discharged by
the court without giving a verdict on that question, the jury shall be
constituted as if to try whether or not she was fit to plead, and
shall be sworn in such manner as the court may direct.
The question whether the woman is pregnant or not shall be determined
by the jury on such evidence as may be laid before them either on the
part of the woman or on the part of the Crown, and the jury shall find
that the woman is not pregnant unless it is proved affirmatively to
their satisfaction that she is pregnant.
Where in proceedings under this section the jury finds that the woman
in question is not pregnant the woman may appeal under the Judicature
(Appellate Jurisdiction) Act, to the Court of Appeal and that Court,
if satisfied that for any reason the finding should be set aside,
shall quash the sentence passed on her and instead thereof pass on her
a sentence of imprisonment with or without hard labour for life:
that the operation of the provisions of this subsection shall be
deemed to be coincident with the operation of the Judicature
(Appellate Jurisdiction) Act.
McKenzie et al. Case,
supra, para. 210.
See similarly McKenzie et
al. Case, supra, para. 234;
Baptiste Case, supra, para.
See similarly McKenzie et
al. Case, supra, para. 235;
Baptiste Case, supra, para.
See similarly McKenzie et
al. Case, supra,
para. 237; Baptiste Case, supra,
On September 12, 2000, the Judicial Committee of the Privy
Council issued its judgment in the case Neville
Lewis et al. v. The Attorney General of Jamaica, in which it found
that an individual's petition for mercy under the Jamaican
Constitution is open to judicial review. The Judicial Committee of the
Privy Council also found that the procedure for mercy must be
exercised by procedures that are fair and proper, which require, for
example, that a condemned individual be given sufficient notice of the
date on which the Jamaican Privy Council will consider his or her
case, to be afforded an opportunity to make representations in support
of his or her case, and to receive copies of the documents that will
be considered by the Jamaican Privy Council in making its decision.
Neville Lewis et al. v. The Attorney General of Jamaica and The
Superintendent of St. Catherine District Prison, Privy Council Appeals
Nos. 60 of 1999, 65 of 1999, 69 of 1999 and 10 of 2000 (12 September
2000)(J.C.P.C.), at p. 23.