Anthony Briggs v Cipriani Baptiste (Commissioner of Prisons) and Others

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
CourtPrivy Council
JudgeLord Millett,Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead
Judgment Date28 October 1999
Judgment citation (vLex)[1999] UKPC J0722-1
Docket NumberAppeal No. 31 of 1999

[1999] UKPC J0722-1

Privy Council

Present at the hearing:-

Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead

Lord Hoffmann

Lord Clyde

Lord Millett

Sir Patrick Russell

Appeal No. 31 of 1999
Anthony Briggs
(1) Cipriani Baptiste (Commissioner of Prisons)
(2) Evelyn Ann Petersen (Registrar of the Court of Appeal)
(3) The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago

[Majority Judgment delivered by Lord Millett]


At the conclusion of the hearing on 22nd July 1999 their Lordships indicated that the appeal was dismissed and that they would give their reasons later. This they now do.


In August 1992 the appellant Anthony Briggs bludgeoned a taxi driver to death. He was arrested on 17th March 1993 and charged with murder. He was detained in custody awaiting trial for more than three years. On 21st June 1996 he and a co-defendant were jointly convicted of murder. His appeal against conviction to the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago was dismissed and his petition for special leave to appeal was dismissed by the Board on 2nd October 1997.


On 7th October 1997 the appellant submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ("the Commission"). In due course his petition was declared admissible. In the meantime the Government of Trinidad and Tobago published "Instructions relating to applications from persons under sentence of death" ("the Instructions"). These prescribed strict time limits and procedures for applications to the Commission by prisoners under sentence of death. In Thomas v. Baptiste [1999] 3 W.L.R. 249 (" Thomas") the Board was later to rule that the Instructions were unlawful.


As a result of the Instructions there was a danger that the sentences of death passed on a number of convicted prisoners who had lodged petitions with the Commission would be carried out before the Commission had considered their cases. On 27th May 1998, therefore, at the request of the Commission and as a matter of urgency, the President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered provisional measures in respect of five such petitioners. They included the appellant. The order required Trinidad and Tobago to take all measures necessary to preserve the lives of the five petitioners "so that the Court may examine the pertinence of the provisional measures requested"; to inform the Court on the measures taken in compliance with the order; and to submit the Commission's request for provisional measures for the consideration of the full Court during its next regular session. These provisional measures were ratified by the full Court on 14th June 1998.


The time limits prescribed by the Instructions expired on 11th June 1998. Trinidad and Tobago thereupon informed the Commission that the appellant's case had been referred to the Advisory Committee on the Power of Pardon and that any recommendation which the Commission might make in his case would not now be taken into consideration. In its Report to the Inter-American Court on the measures taken in compliance with the Order of the Court Trinidad and Tobago contended that it could not comply with the Court's Order of 14th June.


On 30th July a warrant of execution was read to the appellant. It fixed the 4th August as the date for the sentence to be carried out. The appellant promptly applied for constitutional relief. On 3rd August by consent Jamadar J. ordered a stay of execution. On the application of the prosecution Lucky J. discharged the stay on 27th August and ordered the appellant's execution to be carried out on the following day. On appeal to the Court of Appeal Permanand J.A. granted a further stay of execution on the same day. Her order was continued in force until the appellant's case came before the Court of Appeal in May 1999.


Their Lordships respectfully agree with the observation of the Chief Justice on that occasion that the order made by Lucky J. on 27th August was one which should never have been made. They also consider that the death warrant should not have been read to the appellant on 30th July. On those dates the appellant's petition to the Commission was still pending and an order of the Inter-American Court was in force requiring the state to take provisional measures to preserve his life pending further consideration by the Court. Furthermore on 30th July Thomas was currently before the Court of Appeal. The prisoners in that case were challenging the state's right to carry out the death sentence while proceedings were still pending before the Commission, as well as its right to do so where the defendant had endured intolerable conditions in prison since conviction. Both issues arose in the appellant's case also. The conditions to which he was subjected after conviction were similar to those endured by the defendants in Thomas, and this issue is not before their Lordships only because it was disposed of by the Board in Thomas.


After conflicting decisions at first instance the Court of Appeal gave judgment in Thomas in favour of the state on 4th August 1998 and granted conditional leave to appeal to the Board. Final leave was granted on 28th August. The issues involved were of great constitutional importance, and it was plain from the first that Thomas would need to be considered by the Board. The proper approach when the state is faced with a serious legal challenge of a general nature to the propriety of carrying out the death sentence is to stay executions in other cases raising the same issue pending its final determination: see Reckley v. Minister of Public Safety and Immigration [1995] 2 A.C. 491 at 498.


On 27th January 1999 the Board allowed the appeal in Thomas and indicated that it would give its reasons later. It did so in March 1999. The Board declared that it would be a breach of the defendants' constitutional rights to carry out the death sentences imposed on them before their applications to the Commission had been finally determined and the final decisions of the Commission and the Court had been duly considered by the relevant authorities of Trinidad and Tobago. The Board ordered that the carrying out of the death sentences be stayed accordingly.


Meanwhile the Inter-American Court had held a public hearing on 28th August 1998 to determine whether it had jurisdiction to order a state party to take provisional measures to preserve the life of a petitioner pending the consideration of his case by the Commission. The Court ruled that Article 63(2) of the American Convention on Human Rights 1969 ("the Convention") gave it such jurisdiction. On the following day the Court made a further Order requiring the state to maintain provisional measures in force in respect of eight petitioners including the appellant "so as not to hinder the processing of their cases before the Inter-American system" (emphasis supplied).


In due course the Commission approved a Confidential Report under Article 50 of the Convention. The Report was transmitted to Trinidad and Tobago on 25th November 1998. The Commission found that the appellant's detention for a period of three years and three months while awaiting trial was a denial of his right to personal liberty and an infringement of Article 7(5) of the Convention. This provides:-

"5. Any person detained shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to be released without prejudice to the continuation of the proceedings. His release may be subject to guarantees to assure his appearance for trial."


The Commission expressly found that there had been no breach of Article 5 (the right to humane treatment and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment) or of Article 8 (the right to a fair trial). Despite the narrowness of the ground on which the Commission had upheld the appellant's complaint, it made the following recommendation:-

"The petitioner is entitled to an effective remedy which includes compensation and consideration for an early release or commutation of sentence."


Article 51 of the Convention provides:-

"(1) If, within a period of three months from the date of the transmittal of the report of the Commission to the states concerned, the matter has not either been settled or submitted by the Commission or by the state concerned to the Court and its jurisdiction accepted, the Commission may, by the vote of an absolute majority of its members, set forth its opinion and conclusions concerning the question submitted for its consideration.

(2) Where appropriate, the Commission shall make pertinent recommendations and shall prescribe a period within which the state is to take the measures that are incumbent upon it to remedy the situation examined.

(3) When the prescribed period has expired, the Commission shall decide by the vote of an absolute majority of its members whether the state has taken adequate measures and whether to publish its report."


The three month period prescribed by Article 51(1) expired on 25th February 1999. The Commission drew up an Article 51 Report and transmitted it to Trinidad and Tobago on 12th March. The Commission confirmed its previous conclusions and repeated its recommendation. It informed the state that it placed itself at the disposal of the parties with a view to reaching a friendly settlement of the matter on the basis of respect for the human rights recognised in the Convention. When this produced no response the Commission informed the Court that it proposed to publish its Article 51 Report in its Report for 1998-9.


By a letter dated 16th April 1999 the Solicitor-General of Trinidad and Tobago informed the Commission that the Advisory Committee on the Power of Pardon had met to consider the Commission's Report and its recommendation that the...

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