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Hurdles on the road to the hangman

 Rodger Samuel, Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration, has stepped out of his portfolio crease to make himself the new champion of  hanging within the People’s Partnership administration. 

 With Minister Samuel also wearing the hat of Pastor Samuel, Trinidad and Tobago can prepare for the destabilising effect of another Cabinet Minister pushing a cause not in step with Government policy or action. The last such minister to position himself as a capital punishment cheerleader was Jack Warner, starting from his initial portfolio as Works Minister and yet failing to carry out even one execution after he was elevated to National Security Minister. 

 Now Minister Samuel, advocating a crime-fighting measure not even referenced by security expert Gary Griffith who now oversees that portfolio, is seeking to bring populist pressure to bear on the Government. “Citizens are fed up by what is going on. Citizens need to demand that something is done,” Samuel said. The “something” advocated by the minister/pastor/MP is based on the unsupported premise that hanging convicted murderers will deter others now killing at the rate of more than two a day. 

But, as even persons in favour of capital punishment have pointed out, it is difficult to execute criminals unless you catch them first. And, with the T&T Police Service having set itself a detection rate target of 20 per cent, this means that criminals can still expect five-to-one odds of getting away with their nefarious acts. At the same time, as noted by National Security Minister Griffith, about half of persons murdered last year have been involved in criminal activities. This means that executions carried out by the State would have less deterrence than rivalry and revenge killings within the criminal class itself. 


As for the other category of murders, usually described as “crimes of passion”, the idea of being arrested and hanged has no relevance for such perpetrators at the moment of murder. Indeed, this is why our legal system recognises that manslaughter can be a more appropriate charge than murder in such cases.

Additionally, any flashback to the procedures for carrying out State executions will reveal enough legal, judicial and legislative hurdles to prove that it’s not a matter of simply wishing into being a newly active role for the hangman. After all, both the leaders of the UNC and the PNM have declared their unequivocal support for capital punishment, yet the parties have been unable to come to an agreement in Parliament over the legislative challenges. 

 So perhaps the pastor/minister will fast again, as he did last July. But while most killers remain uncaught, it will take a miracle worker to bring back hanging and to make it deter murders.

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