Cox v. The Attorney General, Petrus Compton, et al.

No 714 of 1999, unreported
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Country: Saint Lucia
Region: Americas
Year: 1999
Court: High Court (Civil Constitutional)
Health Topics: Prisons
Human Rights: Freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
Tags: Cruel treatment, Degrading treatment, Execution, Imprisonment, Incarceration, Inhuman treatment, Inmate

C had been held on death row for 4 years and 9 months without lodging any appeals against conviction or sentence. C sought a stay of his execution order on the grounds that the delay was unreasonable and violated the constitutional prohibition on torture or inhuman degrading treatment or punishment. C argued that the holding in Pratt v Morgan, that a period of five years and over on death row awaiting execution constituted inhuman or degrading treatment, was not a fixed rule and case law has held that execution should follow as soon as practicable after sentence of death. C further claimed that the failure of the Mercy Committee to hear the applicant before arriving at its decision to order the execution violated the rules of natural justice. Finally, C alleged that the state’s failure, as a member of the OAS, to adopt procedures by which a condemned person could make representations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights also violated C’s constitutional rights.

[Adapted from INTERIGHTS summary, with permission]

The Court held that the delay on death row was unreasonable.

The Court found that C had no legal right to challenge his planned execution. The prerogative of mercy provided in the Constitution is a discretionary process and provides C no legal rights. As St Lucia is a sovereign state, it cannot be challenged for its decision not to ratify a treaty and therefore the appeal on both point fails.

The Court used the test developed by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to find the amount of time on death row unreasonable. The test requires that the execution of the death sentence provides that execution should follow as soon as practicable after sentence of death, allowing a reasonable time for appeal and consideration of reprieve. It has further been held that the limit of five years set in Pratt was not a yardstick by which to measure delay, but that the period of what is 'as soon as practicable' is to be ascertained by what is reasonable in the circumstances. In the present case, the 4 years and 9 months delay was not reasonable and a stay of the execution is granted, to be substituted with a sentence of life.

[Adapted from INTERIGHTS summary, with permission]

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