Five British judges will this week consider whether a prisoner who may be mentally ill should remain on death row after a Caribbean court convicted him of murdering another inmate.
Although Jay Chandler is unlikely to meet the hangman in Port of Spain, the case will have international repercussions for countries that still carry out executions and those that recognise the far-reaching jurisdiction of the UK’s judicial committee of the privy council (JCPC).
The hearing comes amid concern over the spiralling murder rate in Trinidad and Tobago, which has reinvigorated calls for the death penalty to be enforced. Last year 494 people were murdered in the Commonwealth state, which has not hanged anyone since 1999.
Saul Lehrfreund, co-executive director of the Death Penalty Project, who visited Chandler on death row in October, said: “This is yet another example of someone being sentenced to death who has never been assessed by mental health experts. He will present a report from a forensic psychologist who has diagnosed him as suffering from episodes of psychosis – fresh evidence, it is argued, that casts doubt on the safety of his conviction and sentence.
“Without proper assessments, people who are potentially mentally disabled inevitably slip through the net and it is all too common to find prisoners with severe mental health issues on death row. The mandatory death penalty is of great concern as the judge has no discretion over whether the death penalty should be imposed. Trinidad and Tobago is one of the last countries in the Caribbean to retain this colonial relic, in violation of its international obligations.
“The backdrop to this case is the clear prohibition on the execution of individuals with mental disorder under international law. The legal safeguards are there – the problem is with their implementation in practice.”
The appeal will be heard by Lords Kerr, Sumption, Reed, Carnwath and Lloyd-Jones at the Supreme Court on Tuesday 16 January.