At least 44 prisoners currently serving life sentences in Belize will be re-sentenced following an important judgment by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). After considering reforms to the Belize Criminal Code, the CCJ has found that judges have discretion to impose a fixed-term sentence for individuals convicted of murder, instead of life imprisonment or the death penalty. SRT grantee the Death Penalty Project provided pro bono legal assistance in this case.
The appellants, Gregory August and Alwin Gabb, had initially been sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This sentence was struck down by the Belize Court of Appeal in November 2016 as ‘inhuman’ and a violation of a right to a fair trial. As a result, the Belize government brought in legislative reforms which hold that, when sentencing a person to life imprisonment, the judge must impose a minimum term. Once this has been served, the prisoner becomes eligible to have their case reviewed by a Parole Board for possible early release.
In considering the new legislation, however, the CCJ found that life imprisonment was just one possible punishment for individuals convicted of murder and that a lesser fixed-term sentence could be imposed instead. This means that each prisoner currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment in Belize must now be provided with another sentencing hearing to determine the proportionate punishment in their case.
Amanda Clift-Matthews, Legal Director of The Death Penalty Project and In-house Counsel, said, ‘This is a phenomenal and important decision by the Caribbean Court of Justice which affects not just prisoners currently serving life sentences in Belize but future prisoners who may come before the courts. No longer is the judge constrained with a choice between life imprisonment or death.’
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