HRC: Life sentences must end

| 20/11/2013

(CNS): The Human Rights Commission has warned that government needs to tackle the issue of mandatory life sentences for murder without the chance of parole before it is challenged in court and it is forced to adopt an inappropriate model for Cayman. In a new report the HRC makes it clear that the concept of whole life sentences with no chance of release runs contrary to Cayman’s own Bill of Rights as well as the European Convention. However, government has appeared reluctant to tackle the issue, which the HRC and its predecessor, the Human Rights Committee, warned would need to be addressed once Cayman adopted a bill of rights and as a result of findings by the European Court of Human Rights.

The publication of the HRC report, entitled "Whole-Life Sentences — The Impact of Human Rights and the Need for a New Model", comes in the wake of a petition filed in the Grand Court last month challenging a life sentence handed down to 22-year-old Tareek Ricketts, who was recently convicted of the murder of Jackson Rainford in a fatal shooting, which the crown had painted as a jealousy killing.

Ricketts, like all of those convicted in a Cayman court of murdering another person, regardless of the circumstances or number of people killed, was given a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole. Unless Ricketts can mount a successful appeal against his conviction, as the law currently stands, his only chance of ever leaving prison alive is in the hands of the governor.

However, the concept of the mandatory life sentence falls foul of section 3 of the Cayman Islands 2009 Constitution’s Bill of Rights, which is now in force, and section 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with an individual’s right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

The HRC said that when a defendant’s continued imprisonment could no longer be justified under any legitimate penal rationales, there is a violation of an individual’s right and has warned that government needs to change the law to introduce a tariff system that will allow a judge to determine the minimum time a convicted killer serves behind bars before he will be released.

Although this does not signal a date of release, it gives a prisoner the chance to go before a board and allow them to review the circumstances of the case after the prescribed tariff. When there is still a danger to the community or other reasons for keeping the prisoner behind bars, then the sentence can continue but there is a constant goal for an inmate to work towards a possible release date and a motivation for rehabilitation.

The report notes that on the surface ‘life without parole’ as a sentence for murder seems to be a logical punishment, but the HRC points to evidence to doubt the efficacy of using such principles of distributive punishment.

“The HRC is concerned that a lack of willingness by the legislature to grapple with this serious and sensitive issue will lead to the Cayman Islands being forced to adopt a system from another jurisdiction,” the report warns, which it said would undermine the chance to tailor a tariff and parole system to Cayman’s  unique circumstances.

“The HRC has reached out to the past and current government in an effort to bring attention to the fact that the Cayman Islands is at a point in time whereby, although limited, a window of opportunity is still available to find an appropriate balance and construct a human-rights-compliant life sentence tariff system that protects the rights and freedoms of the community while protecting the inherent dignity of the individual in accordance with the BoR,” the report notes.

CNS has contacted the premier’s office and government officials in the Home Affairs Ministry to find out where government is with the issue but has not yet received a response.

Removing the mandatory whole life sentence is unlikely to draw wide support from the community, and is in fact more than likely to draw condemnation, which makes it a sticky issue for politicians who depend on the voting populace for their jobs. In addition, with several members of legislature still lamenting the removal of the death penalty, the tariff issue is not one that government will find easy to steer through the legislative process.

However, if the courts find in Ricketts’ favour, that the mandatory sentence he faces is incompatible with the Bill of Rights, which many local experts believe is extremely likely, the issue of resolution will be placed in the hands of lawmakers to remedy. The HRC also notes that all 19 of Cayman’s ‘lifers’, one of whom is serving a life sentence for multiple rapes but not murder, are entitled to challenge the whole life sentence in the courts

In addition, while the benefits of introducing tariffs may not be immediately apparent to the wider populace, there are many sensible, as well as human and moral reasons for introducing them.

The current sentence gives no room for the opportunity or incentive for redemption or rehabilitation, nor does it offer the courts any flexibility, when it is obvious that not all murder cases are the same.

“Perhaps the strongest objection to mandatory whole-life sentencing is that it is ablunt sentencing tool, which applies the same sentence to all offenders who have committed the same crime without due regard to the principle of proportionality,” the report from the HRC notes.

It also reminds legislators and the community that Cayman, as a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and a country with a Bill of Rights built on that convention, can ill-afford to ignore the reality that whole life sentencing is, by all indications, violating people's fundamental human rights. With what it describes as an “increasing overlap between punishment and human rights concerns”, the HRC states that Cayman must progressively reform the existing life sentence with the support of evidence-led policies and legislation that facilitate human rights compliance, as it is currently in conflict.

The commission states that tariffs empower judges to proportionately respond to the circumstances of each particular murder conviction when handing down a sentence. The concept of a minimum term allows a sentencing judge to consider the broad circumstances of the particular murder and recognises that not all murders are the same.

In addition, a tariff system would allow some leniency for those that admit their guilt and avoid the need for trial. At present, no one charged with murder ever pleads guilty because there is absolutely nothing to be gained in doing so and everything to be lost.

It would also give the prison authorities a carrot and a stick to encourage inmates serving life to do their time without further trouble. A recent example that the authorities face is the sixth escape of Steve Manderson. Without any chance of ever being released there is no incentive for Manderson to give up his jail breaks. Since the normal punishment of adding time to a sentence is impossible for a lifer, there is little that the authorities can do to manage such prisoners other than keep them in high security conditions at all times.

The issue will be a challenge for government regardless. Changing the law will not be popular with voters but not changing the law could lead to costly law suits before the UK is likely to impose a tariff system without any input from local legislators. The HRC points out that sooner or later this issue must be addressed.

CNS Poll: What should be the punishment for murder?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category: Crime

About the Author ()

Comments (42)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Anonymous says:

    We keep following the UK, who have bent to the will of the EU. Has anyone seen what a mess the UK is these days? So now, we are upholding the rights of murderers while our own rights are being steadily eroded – HELLO! – arbitrary wiretapping, right to search with no warrant? Something is severely wrong with this picture.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This will only provide more reason for retaliatory killings. If people do not think those who kill their loved ones will pay for it, they will take justice into their own hands. It may be wrong, it may be ignorant, but it is human nature to want revenge.

  3. Knot S Smart says:

    My question is – Why do educated people (as in the human rights groups) fight so hard to make life more comfortable for those that harm innocent victims?

    • Anonymous says:

      Because they are less base and barbaric than the hordes. 

      • Anonymous says:

        An unpleasant but self-evident truth. The regression of the uneducated classes has been one of the most under-recognised social developments since the war.

  4. Anonymous says:
    No Problem.
    Just revise the sentencing criteria:
    Old – Murder = Life with no parole
    New – Murder= = 100 years with parole at 90 years
    Simple, let's move on.
  5. Anonymous says:

    You might as well spare your thumbs and make betteruse of your time educating yourselves, folks, the abolishment WILL happen in Cayman and rightly so.

    • Anonymous says:

      The European Court of Human Rights has done untold damage to the rule of Law in the UK. It seems NO Political Party has the B***s to stand up against Europe. The sooner the UK comes out of Europe the better. English law for England and the Overseas Territories, why should a European Judge sitting in Brussels have the right to dictate to The Cayman Islands, never mind the UK, what can happen in "OUR" Courts!!!!.

  6. Anonymous says:

    If you cant do the TIME, then dont do the CRIME!!

  7. Anonymous says:

    The posters on this thread obviously have no understanding about the issues underlying the settled case law on this topic.

    • Anonymous says:

      its not that they dont understand it, (its settled law only in so far as it relates to the European Court of HR ruling on life sentenceswhich then impacted the UK courts).  They simply object to it.  It is this same disingenuous information and sactimonious behaviour that landed us where we are now, with this constitution and BOR that a few thought would be best for all without explaining exactly what it all meant.  The UK reacted just as badly to the ruling by the EU Court that life sentences were unlawful and considered pulling out of the EU Court and sent a strong message of disappointment and anger.  

      • Anonymous says:

        The "EU Court" ?  Really?  Shows you are talking from a place of significant ignorance.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yes the EU Court!  Again, it's this arrogance that's helped to sink us! Whilst it is the EU convention On human rights upon which the judges in the EU Court are making its decisions, the UK has threatened to pull out of the EU COURT as a result of its decisions. Read sometime.  The news papers report on Camerons statements. By trying to mislead the public into thinking we have no idea what we are saying because you're more educated, the rest of us are just as concerned as the UK citizens about the impact of the EUCourt.  

          • Anonymous says:

            It is not "the EU Court" and its not "the EU Convention" . The European Court of Human Rights is not an organ of the EU but was created to enforce the European Convention on Human Rights.  

            • Anonymous says:

              Yes, we all know its the European Court!  The point remains the same doesnt it?!

              • Anonymous says:

                No.  AMe if you make that basic a mistake the subtleties of the issue are beyond you. 

                • Anonymous says:

                  Yes you're correct and you may even be correct that I am ignorant and these issues are beyond me. It explains why I should be misled, lied to and ignored because you are educated and know what's best for me, including the BOR and it's consequences. It explains why most of us, like the rest of the UK including Cameron, reacted the same way to the decision of the European Court.  Because we are all ignorant and only a precious few like yourself know what's best. Yes I guess I am angry because you and others like you have made it clear we are ignorant and shouldnt express our concerns  and you and your kind are all knowing and powerful. Helps to explain why you and others like you felt there really shouldnt be a real education of the masses because we were too ignorant to understand and so you went behind closed doors to horse trade on our constitution because you knew best and we were too ignorant to understand. Helps to explain why my country is so divided and so polarized.  

                  • Anonymous says:

                    But the BOR is irrelevant to this.  Cayman was committed to the ECHR prior to the new Constitution coming in.

          • Anonymous says:

            Impressive mix of anger and ignorance. 

      • Anonymous says:


        You are so right in what you are saying.

        The UK is now realising that the europeans are working extremly hard at destroying them.

        The majority of the citizens want out of Europe. Cameron is promising the people a referendum in 2017. 

        These Europeans are the antichrist, one world order… one currency. Thank God Britian had the foresight and did  not join their currency.

        They will eventually change the  world, where there are no justice for the victims, and innocent.

        People   will kill and walk the streets free. This is the type of world they are trying to create.

  8. Kadafe says:

    Maybe we should consider bringing back the death penalty. That would be a good deterrent  and we would have a way of getting rid of the most violent offenders. 

    • Anonymous says:

      We already have a way – gang warfare.

    • Anonymous says:

      You mean "voilent offenders" like those unfortunate folks who lose their lives because someone stood up in court and swore to tell the truth and then proceeded to condemn them to hell with lies? One day simple minds like yours will understand that NO ONE on the face of this earth has the right to take a human life my friend. THAT, very simply, is the reason the death penalty has become a thing of the past, and so will life imprisonment, which is the same or in many cases worse than a death sentence. 

      • Anonymous says:

        Are you kidding.  Sothose who are lifers, who have taken other people lives should not spend their life in jail?  

        The good book says, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".  They only deserve an slap on the wrist and told to be a good boy or girl and never do that again. 

        • Anonymous says:

          That's what the OLD good book says. You need to try to stay out of there.

      • Anonymous says:

        Exactly,  but if they did'nt take a life they would not be in prison for murder. I say what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Open letter to the constitutional office. I suggest that you visit the families of the bereaved before you send your emails and shuffle the papers in your ivory towers.

  10. Anonymous says:

    We were intentionally misled and misinformed in the so called education campaign that government conducted on the bill of rights. There is far worse to come as a result. Sadly, who do we turn to for selling out our own rights in exchange for this deficient and illconceived constitution? Those who misinformed us that this was a good constitution and the best that we could get.  The public has no idea what's waiting in the pipeline and there's no way to put the genie back in the bottle. Very concerning.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Their life sentences should end when the people they killed come back to life!  There is nothing more disgusting than so called human rights activist fighting for the humane treatment of murderers!  For instance, all the alarm in the US when they are putting someone to death for literally torturing and killing his victim in horrific ways and those bleeding hearts are out there yelling that a lethal injection is inhumane???! Get a life idiots.  They should die by the same method they used on their victims!! These worthless scums should have been executed long time ago!  We are being more than humane by footing the bill for these killers to live.  There is nothing to deter criminals as our laws are too lenient.  Cayman should take the approach of some Central American countries where if you have a family member in prison the responsibility of feeding the prisoner is on the family! I bet some no use parents would do a better job then if they had to hike to Northward 3 times a day to feed their plague child!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Open letter to the H.R.C.

    The life sentences to  these murders must stick as they don't have the right to play God and decide how long someone must live… take someones life, you deserve to serve your life in jail or be put to death. Serving 25 -30 years in jail is not fair to the deceased as the criminal gets a second chance at freedom, while the deceased don't get that chance.

    • Anonymous says:

      You say they don't have the right to play God but yet you agree that they can be sentenced to death…pretty sure you are playing God right there.

      I agree that life sentance should still be an option for these people but not sentanced to death, only God can judge them. Why should government be able to kill someone for "the good" but yet people are not allowed to in everyday life. I am definitely not saying to allow people in everyday life to kill someone for "the good" since that will just get out of hand and just plain wrong but I think neither should the government.

  13. Kato says:

    What about the victim's and their families rights?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Just change life into 99 years, done.

  15. Anonymous says:

    So let me get this straight? They are telling you it's ok to kill but not ok to sexually harass women or children. The govt really mixed up boy!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Its not the government, it is the  Europeans mad a@@ holes doing this to the UK and we have to abide by it also.

      • Anonymous says:

        Actually it seems from the article that this all stems from Cayman's constitution, which "we the people" voted for.

        This is our doing so we have no choice other than to own it whether or not it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. 

        • Anonymous says:

          It doesn't all stem from the Constitution, but from the fact that we are bound by the ECHR and the ECtHR has ruled on this. 

    • I wonder says:

      I wonder how many other morons post comments on here without reading the damn article. The Government is not saying anything its the HRC that made the statement. Does anyone actyally read ? No damn wonder the UDP was so sucessful last election they are masters at one-liners and thats all it took to fool everyone.


      "The Human Rights Commission has warned that government needs to tackle the issue of mandatory life sentences for murder without the chance of parole before it is challenged in court and it is forced to adopt an inappropriate model for Cayman."