The global fight to end capital punishment

Rajendra Krishna is personally grateful for the intervention of British judges. He spent seven years on death row in Trinidad, having been convicted of murder during a botched burglary in his early 20s. He is wary of the press, as any local media attention could affect his chances of finding work. However, he is happy to speak to British journalists, explaining that he owes his freedom to English people...

The debate is close to boiling point in the English-speaking Caribbean, partly because it plays on one of the few remaining links to Britain colonialism. The fate of those on death row is currently decided more than 4,000 miles away, in Westminster, at the judicial committee of the privy council (JCPC). "We talk about independence, meaning a flag and an anthem," Martinez says, "but we need to sever the umbilical cord with the mother country."

The JCPC remains the highest court of appeal for 27 countries, including former Caribbean colonies, and the persuasiveness of a British campaign to abolish capital punishment – argued through successive cases – has prevented many islands from carrying out punishments that remain on their statute books. The London-based Death Penalty Project (DPP) provides free representation to those facing the death penalty in countries that still use the JCPC as their final appeal court. The judgments made there are influencing the capital punishment debate around the world: increasingly Commonwealth countries accept that executing someone who has been on death row for five or more years constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment.

This follows the landmark Jamaican case of Pratt and Morgan, in which the judges ruled that the death sentences of two convicted murderers who had spent 14 years on death row should be commuted to life imprisonment. The case is viewed around the Caribbean as the main barrier to implementing the death penalty – by the time that most appeals have been exhausted, the five-year limit has run out. Keir Starmer, the UK's director of public prosecutions, who used to appear on behalf of condemned prisoners, has described the project as the "most successful litigation organisation in the world".

In March, two British QCs were arguing these points before five British judges in an oak-panelled room within the new UK supreme court building in Westminster. It could have been a day like any other in the British legal system, except for the large Trinidad and Tobago flag in the corner...

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