Patrick Lovelace. (Photo: searchlight.vc)

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ only death row prisoner will benefit from a Privy Council ruling that found unconstitutional, a law excluding persons in the country sentenced to death from applying for an extension of time to have their case reviewed by a higher court.

The ruling relates to Patrick Lovelace, who was convicted of the 2002 murder of 12-year-old Lokeisha Nanton, whose nude body was found hanging from a tree in Sion Hill.

With the Privy Council ruling, the matter will be remitted to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal, which will decide whether to grant an extension of time in this case.

Lovelace was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2004. His conviction and sentence were initially quashed but then re-imposed following a re-trial in 2009.

Lovelace appealed unsuccessfully against his conviction in 2012, and then, in 2014, applied for an extension of time to appeal against his death sentence, as his previous appeal did not address this.

This application was denied on the basis that the court had no jurisdiction to grant an extension of time in death penalty cases.

In SVG, a person must apply for permission to appeal within 14 days of the date of their conviction.

Whilst there is a provision allowing individuals to apply for an extension of time in other cases, death row prisoners are explicitly exempted from exercising this right.

The London-based Death Penalty Project, an independent international human rights organisation, challenged the constitutionality of this legal provision to the Privy Council.

The Death Penalty Project, which was instructed by prominent Vincentian lawyer Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, a human rights activist, argued that the legal provision exempting death row prisoners from exercising the right to apply for an extension of time to file an appeal amounted to a denial of due process for death row prisoners.

“In its judgment, the Court found the rule to be ‘rigid’ and ‘inflexible’ and the offending section of the law was considered unconstitutional. The Privy Council’s decision is consistent with the approach taken by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in Cannonier & Others, one of our previous cases from St Kitts and Nevis which successfully addressed the same issue,” the Death Penalty Project said.

Bacchus-Baptiste told iWitness News that she thinks that the Privy Council ruling “has far-reaching implications because it means now a person who is on death row who appeals out of time now has a chance to apply to the court to extend the time within which to appeal.

“Before, that couldn’t happen once it was too late. And I really don’t understand the reason for it because I think it should be even. I think it was discriminatory against death row persons. And that’s why the Privy Council said it was contrary to the Constitution, and I agree with them.

“I think that in the future, if something like that happens, then it would not deprive someone who has been sentenced to death to appeal out of time.”

Asked if the legal exercise was an academic undertaking in light of the view that the death penalty, in light of a previous Privy Council ruling, has, for all intents and purposes been abolished in St. Vincent, Bacchus-Baptiste said:

“He is sentenced to death and if we didn’t win this round of the appeal, he would be subject to be executed. So it is pretty far-reaching, certainly where Patrick Lovelace is concerned, and anybody else who may be sentenced to death.

“So, even though the death penalty seems to be, for all intents and purposes, abolished, here we have a case where this man was convicted and the court sentenced him to death — the lower court and the Court of Appeal held up that sentence. So, if we did not appeal to the Privy Council, he would have been executed. So I think it is very far-reaching and it can happen to someone else again because the death penalty is still very much on the books.”

In its judgment, the Privy Council rejected earlier case law that suggests there are good reasons for imposing time restrictions on appeals in capital cases, in so far as this prevents prisoners from postponing their execution by lodging requests for an extension of time.

The Privy Council found that, if these concerns were once relevant, they no longer were, as the courts would not tolerate such strategies and there is nothing to suggest that these tactics are being deployed in practice.

Parvais Jabbar, co-executive director of the Death Penalty Project, also welcomed the decision, saying, “The right to appeal and access to court are fundamental fair trial rights which must be respected. They are even more critical in death penalty cases, where the stakes are so much higher if errors occur, as they inevitably do in all justice systems.”