Jamaican Court Debates Future of Flogging
By Earl Moxam, Reuters, March 4, 1998

KINGSTON, Jamaica, May 4 (Reuters) - Jamaica's Court of Appeal began hearing arguments on Monday in two cases that may decide the fate of corporal punishment, long a controversial subject in judicial and human rights circles in this country.

A five-man panel was hearing the appeals of Noel Samuda, a laborer, and Walford Ferguson, a farmer, who have each been sentenced to receive 12 strokes with a tamarind switch, in addition to prison sentences.

Ferguson was found guilty in December 1995 of nine charges, including four for rape. Samuda was convicted in October 1996 on charges including rape, possession of a firearm, burglary and larceny. Their crimes were not related.

The two men contend that the flogging sentences constitute inhuman and degrading punishment, in violation of the Jamaican constitution. Ferguson is also serving 25 years and Samuda is serving 15 years.

The corporal punishment debate resurfaced in Jamaica four years ago in August 1994 when Justice Carl Patterson sentenced a 23-year-old laborer, Errol Pryce, to four years imprisonment with hard labor and to six strokes of the tamarind switch for felonious wounding.

Pryce had pleaded guilty to wounding Roseta Cameron, his mother-in-law, leaving her crippled and unable to walk. In the attack Pryce punched her in the abdomen and stabbed her with an ice pick in the neck.

Judges in several other cases followed Patterson's lead and imposed similar sentences, in a break with tradition in which no such sentence had been imposed since the mid-1970s.

In 1976 a committee, appointed by then Attorney General, Carl Rattray and chaired by prominent attorney Ian Ramsay, recommended that all laws that permit or relate to flogging or whipping be immediately repealed. This was never done.

The panel to hear the appeals will be chaired by Rattray, who is now president of the Court of Appeal. It is expected to last three days.

``I do not believe it is a deterrent,'' said Delroy Chuck, spokesman on justice for the parliamentary opposition. ``And it is humiliating and demeaning to even the worst offender.''

Hilaire Sobers, of the Jamaica Council for Human Rights, said public sentiment supported corporal punishment. He believed the issue might ultimately have to be decided on appeal by Britain's Privy Council, which remains the final court of appeal for Jamaicans.

Before it reaches that stage the local court will be asked to consider many arguments which will be put by a legal team led by Dennis Daley, of the Jamaica Council for Human Rights and Dr Lloyd Barnett, a constitutional lawyer.

Section 17 (1) of the Jamaican Constitution, which is cited in the case, says ``no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment.''

Corporal punishment was lawful in Jamaica from the early days of British colonial rule and throughout slavery. Like many other forms of punishment, it was kept on the law books after Jamaica gained independence from Britain in 1962.

The arguments of those opposed to these forms of punishment are based in part on the awful legacy of slavery.

The law prescribes two forms of corporal punishment, the tamarind switch, and the cat-o'-nine-tails.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.All rights reserved.

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