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Wednesday, 26 May, 1999, 09:29 GMT
Trinidad death penalty on trial

port of spain Nine murderers wait for the decision in a Port of Spain prison


By Malcolm Brabant in Miami

British law lords are due to make a landmark decision on the future of executions on the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

The Privy Council has to determine whether hanging constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and is therefore illegal.

If the judges outlaw hanging, a notorious drug lord and his gang will escape the death sentence and there will be outrage from Trinidad's government, which regards the Privy Council as an out-of-touch vestige of colonialism.

Hanging popular

Trinidad's government and the majority of its people regard capital punishment as the best way of deterring the growing number of drug-related murders.

They are tired of being thwarted by judges thousands of miles away in London, who they regard as being completely out of touch with the needs of the Caribbean.

This Privy Council session is the court of last resort for Dole Chadee and eight members of his gang who are sweating in their small cells on death row in Port of Spain's Franklin prison.

Their graves have been dug, the gallows has been tested and according to Trinidad's Attorney General, Ramesh Maharaj, they will be executed in a matter of days if their appeal to the Privy Council fails.

Final chance for British law

Many Trinidadians want to make an example of Chadee and his gang, who were convicted of the brutal murders of a family of four, and there will be great frustration if they escape the hangman's noose again.

Mr Maharaj says there will be serious consequences if the law lords rule against the Trinidadian authorities.

It is likely to spell the end of the Caribbean's reliance on British justice.

In July, the leaders of the island nations will decide whether to set up their own regional supreme court which would have the final say over cases such as these.

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