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BREAKING: Former GDF Coast Guardsmen, convicted for murdering goldminer, challenge constitutionality of death penalty

Last Updated on Thursday, 1 April 2021, 20:46 by Denis Chabrol

Two former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Coast Guardsmen, who were convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a Bartica-based goldminer in 2009, have filed an appeal on the grounds that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

The Attorney General has since asked the Full Court of the High Court to intervene in the criminal appeals as they deal with constitutional arguments by ex Coast Guardsmen Deon Greenidge and Sherwin Hart. The Attorney General is seeking to intervene as a party to the Appeal in order  to assist the Court with written and oral submissions with a view to aiding the Court in putting all cases and relevant authorities before the Court.

“This Appeal raises novel and important Constitutional issues which go to the core of Guyana’s Constitutional ethos and it addresses the vexed question of the legality of the death penalty in Guyana,” says Attorney-at-Law and Legal Officer in the State Solicitor’s Office, Ocelisa Marks.

Greenidge, Hart and Devon Gordon were found guilty for  the murder of Kant Ramdass on August 20, 2009 at Caiman Hole, Essequibo River, where they had forced him into a patrol boat and taken him before robbing him of GYD$17M in cash he had been transporting for his employer. They then dumped him overboard.

Greenidge and Hart have hired Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel, Douglas Mendes and Guyanese lawyers, Nigel Hughes and Latchmie Rahamat to ask the Full Court to find that the death penalty on Guyana’s lawbooks violates the country’s constitution.

In their latest grounds of appeal filed in November 2020,  Greenidge and Hart contend that the death penalty is unlawful and contravenes Guyana’s constitution that describes the country as a democratic state,  provides for the right to a happy, creative and productive life), which fall outside the scope of any savings clause, and provides for a free-standing right to life and human dignity which prohibits the imposition of the death penalty and which is separately enforceable and and out-with the scope of the general savings clause.

The appellants also want the Court to rule that the imposition of the death penalty is a breach of the constitutional prohibition against “inhuman and degrading punishments or other treatment” within Article 141 of the Constitution for reason that i. Capital punishment offends against the evolving standings of humanity, as demonstrated by domestic and international state practice, an ever expanding body of judicial opinion recognizing that the death
penalty is cruel and/or inhuman, and the  increasing momentum of international law towards abolition.

Greenidge and Hart say that the execution of the death penalty following a lengthy de-facto moratorium would be
contrary to Guyana’s binding international law obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Politocal Rights (ICCPR). They say that the imposition of a penalty which cannot be lawfully effected is itself cruel and unusual in breach of Article 141 of the Constitution. Further, they argue that the death penalty is not shielded from inconsistency with Article l4l by virtue of any savings clause  (whether the specific clauses within Articles l4l(2) or
the general savings clause in Article 152) for reason that i. The relevant legislation does not have the  character of “existing lad’ within the meaning of Article 152 (the general savings clause);

They say that the the court has both a power and a duty to modify relevant legislation lo ensure it is rendered consistent with fundamental rights and principles of the Constitution.

The purported exemption’ for the death penalty within the protection of the right to life in Article 138(1) provision cannot prevent the death penalty being held to be inconsistent with other Articles of the constitution because Article 138 (l ) has been amended by virtue of evolving state practice and the developing interpretation of international law
instruments scheduled to the Constitution  such that it prohibits the intentional deprivation of life without exception for the imposition of capital punishment;

The convicts want to convince the Court that the exemption under Article 183(l ) is otiose in any event as the death penalty cannot be lawfully imposed, and consequently there are  no lawful sentences of death to be executed
to which Article 138(1) might apply.