Section 4 Offences Against the Person Act 1925 of Trinidad and Tobago should be interpreted, by operation of s.5 of the 1976 Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, as providing for a discretionary, rather than mandatory, life sentence for murder. Overruled by R. v Boyce (Lennox Ricardo) (2004) UKPC 32, Times, July 14, 2004Appeal from a decision of the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago that the prescription of a mandatory death sentence for murder, under s.4 Offences Against the Person Act 1925, was not unconstitutional. On 15 July 1999 the appellant was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On 17 July 2002 the Court of Appeal dismissed the appellant's appeal and affirmed the mandatory sentence of death against him. The issues before the Court of Appeal had been, inter alia: (i) whether, construed in light of s.68 Interpretation Act 1962, s.4 of the 1925 Act prescribed a maximum penalty; and (ii) whether s.4 of the 1925 Act required modification so as to provide for a discretionary death sentence in order to bring it into conformity with the 1976 Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago. The Court of Appeal had held, inter alia, that: (a) the 1962 Act had to be given a historic interpretation and on that basis it could not have been the intention of Parliament to change a long-standing and fundamental rule of both statute and common law that every person convicted of murder should be sentenced to death; (b) the mandatory sentence of death was a cruel and unusual punishment; and (c) although s.5 of the 1976 Constitution prohibited cruel and unusual punishment, it could not be used to modify s.4 of the 1925 Act because s.6 of the 1976 Constitution stated that nothing in s.4 and s.5 of the 1976 Constitution was to invalidate an existing law. The latter conclusion was reached by equating s.3 of the 1962 Constitution with s.6 of the 1976 Constitution.HELD: (Lords Millett and Rodger dissenting) (1) The 1962 Act had to be construed by reference to the current meaning of the statute in present day conditions, the "always speaking" variety of interpretation as espoused in R v Ireland (1998) AC 147 and s.10(1) of the 1962 Act. (2) Equating s.3 of the 1962 Constitution and s.6 of the 1976 Constitution was not justified. (3) The context of fundamental rights in respect of life and death issues demanded a generous interpretation of s.6 of the 1976 Constitution. The approach of the Court of Appeal instead adopted a more technical approach. A generous interpretation was provided by modifying s.4 of the 1925 Act under s.5 of the 1976 Constitution, so as to render the words of the statute in conformity with the 1976 Constitution. Section 6 of the 1976 Constitution only came into operation to preclude invalidation of an existing law that had proved irremediable by resort to modification by s.5. (4) So far as possible the 1976 Constitution should be interpreted to conform to the international obligations of Trinidad and Tobago. At the time of the murder committed by the appellant, Trinidad and Tobago was a party to the American Convention on Human Rights 1969. The imposition of a mandatory death sentence was inconsistent with Art.4 of the Convention. Moreover, a mandatory death sentence was inconsistent with the obligations of Trinidad and Tobago under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man 1948. (5) Section 4 of the 1925 Act should be interpreted as providing for a discretionary life sentence. (6) Construed in the world of today and in light of the 1976 Constitution, as well as domestic and international norms, s.68 of the 1962 Act should be read as providing not for a fixed penalty of death for murder, but for a maximum penalty of death. (7) The mandatory sentence of death imposed on the appellant was quashed and the matter was remitted to the trial judge to exercise the discretion as to what sentence to impose.Appeal allowed.

[2003] UKPC 78

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