The decisions over the last 23 years by the United Kingdom-based Privy Council, Jamaica's final appellate court, have not only removed the noose from the necks of almost 200 inmates on death row, but have significantly reduced the imposition of death sentences.

Although Jamaica has retained the death penalty, it is not being carried out. The last hanging took place in February 1988.
There is now one person on death row, and legal experts are positive that hanging will not be resumed in Jamaica because of the Privy Council's rulings in murder cases and the amendments to Jamaican laws.

The case that drastically wiped out the death row population was the United Kingdom Privy Council ruling in 1993 in the Jamaican case of Pratt and Morgan. There were 190 inmates on death row at the time, and, in keeping with the Privy Council's guideline in that case, many of the death sentences were commuted to life.

Inhuman and Degrading

The Privy Council ruled then that it was inhuman and degrading to hang an inmate who had been on death row for more than five years.

The latest Privy Council decision, by which the courts now have to be guided, and which has been described by defence lawyers as "the final nail in the coffin", is the case of Daniel Dick Trimmingham from St Vincent and the Grenadines, which is commonly referred to as the 'Trimmingham Case'.

The Privy Council ruled that for a murder case to attract the death penalty, there must be features of the manner in which the offence was committed that make the case the most extreme and exceptional - "the worst of the worst" or the "rarest of the rare".

It said further that in considering whether a case fell into that category, the judge should compare it with other murder cases and not with ordinary civilised behaviour.

The determination that there must be no reasonable prospect of reform of the offender and that the object of punishment could not be achieved by any means other than the ultimate sentence of death is the other principle that the Privy Council says is to be considered.

The Privy Council has ruled that before the court imposes a sentence of death, it must be satisfied that those two criteria have been fulfilled.

In addition, the prosecution has to give formal notice to the defence and the court before the start of the trial that it intends to apply for the death penalty if the accused is convicted.

"The Trimmingham case, in effect, has given a death sentence itself to the implementation of the death penalty," says Paula Llewellyn, director of public prosecutions.

Her comments came after National Security Minister Robert Montague last month said his ministry was taking steps to determine whether hanging could be resumed in Jamaica, touching off a new debate on the death penalty.

This article originally appeared in the Jamaica Gleaner on May 9, 2016