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Judicial CP - December 1999

Royal Gazette, Hamilton, 20 December 1999

MPs vote to abolish the death penalty


MPs divided along party lines as hanging was struck from Bermuda's law books - despite claims of a free vote by both sides.

A total of five Government MPs - most of whom appeared to speak in favour of retention of the death penalty - did not vote in the 19-13 decision, while the 13 Opposition MPs all voted in favour of keeping the rope.

Government MPs who failed to vote were Derrick Burgess, Wayne Perinchief, El James, Reginald Burrows and Dennis Lister.

On the Opposition side, only C.V. (Jim) Woolridge was absent when the ballot was taken.

Closing the marathon eight hour debate early on Saturday morning, Development and Opportunity Minister Terry Lister said the Progressive Labour Party had advocated the end of corporal punishment years ago, and as Government they would look to see these "archaic acts" abolished.

And he said the Act was important in improving both local and international human rights issues.


Mr. Lister also spoke against judicial corporal punishment, stating that it was a "barbaric practice" which was equivalent to "beating people into submission".

He said the Cat O' Nine Tails had not been used since 1961.

Mr. Lister said Government supported rehabilitation and counselling instead of these methods, and stated that "we want the people who are going to jail back on the streets - as productive members of society".

"Bermuda is part of a global society and we must behave responsibly," he added.

Legislative Affairs Shadow Minister John Barritt said he was less interested in the past, and more interested in the present-day context of the debate.

He said reading the newspapers it seemed evident that criminal activity had escalated somewhat.

And Mr. Barritt said the most important issue in the debate was the "issue of public safety".

"The issue of public safety is paramount. What do people of this country expect? They're looking for security... is what we're doing today going to advance this goal?" Mr. Barritt asked.


United Bermuda Party member Trevor Moniz then moved a motion to delay the vote by six months.

He said: "This motion is premature. The reason we are looking at this bill is because it was in Partnerships for Progress about the relationships with the overseas territories."

But he said Britain might not pass this legislation until 2001.

He added: "We are trying to please somebody who hasn't come to the wicket."

MPs divided upon party lines and the six-month motion was lost by 20 to 12 votes.

Minister of Legislative Affairs Dame Lois Browne Evans said that one could have sympathy for murder victims and their families without "getting hysterical about it".


Dame Lois said that although some people wanted to bring back forms of punishment like the Cat O' Nine Tails, it hearkened to the barbarisms of slavery and the colonial era.

And she added that it was "time for us to stop treating wrong-doers as if they were animals".

Government backbencher Delaey Robinson said that people shouldn't be lulled into a "false sense of security" by keeping capital punishment on the books.

He stated: "If we vote to keep (capital punishment) on the books, are we really going back to hanging people after 22 years?"

Mr. Robinson said that neither hangings nor beatings were deterrents, and stated that "human beings do not react well to power being exerted over them".

He said that prevention, rather than the death penalty, should be the tool to address the murder rate.


Opposition leader Pam Gordon said she was worried about how people would view replacing the death penalty with sentences of 25 years.


She said capital and corporal punishment should have been put in separate bills.

She said: "I think whipping is a nonsense."


Health and Family Services Minister Nelson Bascome supported abolishing capital punishment, and stated: "If I were a retentionist, I think I'd take a strap and flog the Opposition."

"The concept of an eye for an eye is barbaric - and if we really enforced that, everyone would be walking around blind," he added.

And Mr. Bascome said that defending human rights should never depend on popular opinion.

Royal Gazette, Hamilton, 20 December 1999

No-show Government MPs blasted for 'cowardice'

By Raymond Hainey

Government MPs who failed to vote in the controversial debate over the outlawing of hanging and flogging last night denied Opposition claims of cowardice.

The five hit back after Opposition Whip Cole Simons said they had denied their constituents a voice on a major issue.

Mr. Simons added: "The PLP accused the Opposition of cowardice because the Opposition objected to their capital and corporal punishment legislation as it was incomplete."

But he said: "They did not vote for their beliefs - nor did they vote for the beliefs of their constituents."

Mr. Simons added: "I call this a true sign of cowardice."

And he added that the PLP had "free speech, but not a free vote."

He added: "Under the PLP's autocratic style of Government, if you do not adhere to the party line on controversial national issues, members must absent themselves from the Chamber when important decisions are taken."

Five Government MPs did not take part in the vote - which was carried 19-13.

They were backbenchers Derrick Burgess, Reginald Burrows, Wayne Perinchief and El James.

They were joined by Youth and Sport Minister Dennis Lister, while only CV (Jim) Woolridge did not vote with the rest of the UBP.

Opposition Whip Mr. Simons said the UBP had a free vote on the issue - but that the group had collectively taken the position that the legislation as presented was flawed because it made no provision for an effective alternative deterrent.

He insisted: "We want to see something more - life imprisonment meaning life without parole."

And he said not all Opposition MPs were necessarily pro-hanging, but had voted against abolition in protest at the lack of alternatives.

He added: "It was my understanding the PLP had a free vote - if you have a free vote, you can do what you like."

Veteran politician Mr. Burrows said the anti-hanging and flogging bill was a Government measure - unlike previous votes on the issue, which have been private members' bills.


Royal Gazette, Hamilton, 23 December 1999

Senate passes 'flawed' abolition bill

By Stephen Breen

Senate last night approved the abolition of the death penalty and corporal punishment despite learning that the bill was riddled with errors that allegedly make it unworkable.

Two Independent Senators, Jeanette Cannonier and Walwyn Hughes, voted to send the bill back to the House of Assembly - delaying implementation for a year - because they were so concerned about the anomalies.

But Independent Sen. president Alf Oughton used his casting vote to side with Government to pass the Act by six votes to five.

Opposition Sen. Mark Pettingill said the decision by Government to vote through the bill in the face of glaring errors was a "bitter blow" to the Parliamentary process of checks and balances.

He pointed out that the "sloppy" draftsmanship of the bill meant that the sentence for a Police officer who turned a blind eye to a crime being committed will be increased from three years to life in prison.

Government Senate Leader Milton Scott said the mistakes would be passed to the Attorney General's Chambers and the Law Reform Committee to be rectified.

Urging fellow Senators to send the bill back to the House to be re-drafted, Sen. Pettingill said: "This is a sloppy piece of draftsmanship and we are here to get it right.

"These mistakes in law are fundamental and the Act as it stands, whether we are abolitionists or not, is a mistake. It is a piece of nonsense that doesn't work."

Senators expressed astonishment that the errors pointed out by Sen. Pettingill had not been picked up by the House or by Government lawyers who drafted the legislation.


Sen. Hughes said during the debate that he was in favour of abolition, but could not support a bill which was so flawed.

He and Sen. Cannonier joined Opposition Senators Pettingill, Kim Swan and Maxwell Burgess in voting against the bill.

Sen. Oughton voted with Government Senators Michael Scott, Milton Scott, Col. David Burch, Patrice Parris and Calvin Smith in favour of abolition.

When the vote went to a third reading, and support for the bill was assured, Sen. Hughes switched sides to back Government.

The abolition bill will pass into law when it is signed by Governor Thorold Masefield.

© Copyright 1999 The Royal Gazette Limited.

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