PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) – The London Privy Council has ruled that Trinidad’s mandatory death pen-alty for murder convictions was un-constitutional, forcing the country to begin giving discretion to judges when handing out sentences.
The Privy Council recent rulings on two death penalty appeals will result in sentencing phases being added to murder trials, Trinidad Attorney Gen-eral John Jeremie said. But judges will still be allowed to sentence those convicted of murder to death by hanging, he said.
In deciding one of the cases, the Privy Council interpreted Trinidad’s laws to mean death sentences serve as a maximum sentence, not a mandatory one.
The Privy Council, which serves as the highest appeal court for many former British colonies, has frustrated Trinidad and other Caribbean nations in recent years by overturning death sentences. Trinidad has not carried out a death sentence since 1999, though many have been sentenced to death since then.
Earlier this year, Trinidadian officials said 86 people were on death row.
The two murder convicts, Balkis-soon Roodal and Haroon Khan, ap-pealed to the Privy Council saying Tri-nidad’s laws on the death sentence contradict each other.
One law says that murder convicts "shall suffer death’’ and another one says that capital punishment should be the maximum penalty, not the mandatory penalty, defense lawyers said.
Roodal and Haroon Khan will now have to go before a trial judge to be re-sentenced. Details of their alleged crimes were not immediately available.
It was unclear whether the decisions would affect others on death row in Trinidad.
Caribbean nations have been working to establish their own supreme court, the Caribbean Court of Justice, to replace the Privy Council. But the scheduled opening of the court this month was delayed until next year.
Protesters Block Cabinet Minister From Entering Office
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua (AP) – Op-position protesters crowded outside the office of Antigua’s planning minister and kept from entering his office, demanding he resign and charging he accepted an improper payment from an American financier.
Witnesses said Planning Minister Gaston Browne had parked his vehicle and was walking toward his office with police escorts Friday when the confrontation occurred.
The crowd of protesters formed a human chain across the doorway, and they scuffled with police who tried to remove them, witness Foster Derrick said. Police appealed to the protester for order, and they eventually complied.
But Browne said he left to avoid a confrontation, blaming opposition lead-er Baldwin Spencer and Colin Derrick, a candidate running against Browne in upcoming elections. "I really think that their actions are excessive,’’ Browne said, adding that he would return to his office.
No arrests were made, and no in-juries were reported.
It was the second straight day that Spencer and his United Progressive Party supporters picketed outside the office.
Browne has acknowledged one of his constituency groups accepted a check for $37,000 from billionaire Texas in-vestor Allen Stanford. Browne said the money went toward community projects.
Stanford, who has offices in Hous-ton, has acknowledged that check and another in the same amount to the constituency of Tourism Minister Molwyn Joseph. Stanford has denied he was attempting to influence them, saying he makes political contributions through-out the world.
Stanford has called the allegations of impropriety false, and said they are political as Antigua and Barbuda prepares for elections in March.
Joseph, who also received a $37,000 check from Stanford for his consti-tuency, said he didn’t personally benefit from it.
"The check was received by me and passed onto the secretary/treasurer of the constituency,’’ Joseph said Friday. "I consider this attack on me unjustified, hypocritical and unwarranted.’’
Joseph said Stanford’s money went to fund community libraries and sports teams, and to help unemployed youth.
Trade Ministers Agree To Move Forward On Watered-down Outline For FTAA
MIAMI (AP) – Officials from across the Americas have agreed to move forward on a watered-down outline for the world’s largest free trade bloc.
Trade ministers from 34 countries were originally scheduled to finish their negotiations on the Free Trade Area of the Americas on Friday. But after days of debate, they said Thursday they had achieved all they could in Miami.
The agreement, which the nations hope to formalize by January 2005, will likely change what food consumers buy in supermarkets as well as help dictate the future jobs of the hemisphere’s workers. The declaration calls for a core agreement that all countries would sign, but allows each nation to decide its commitment to the more controversial topics.
During the meetings, police clashed with anti-FTAA demonstrators, arresting about 140. Some 20 people, in-cluding three police officers, were hospitalized with injuries.