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Murder conviction and death sentence quashed by Privy Council for prisoner diagnosed with mental disorder


A manslaughter verdict was substituted today in place of a murder conviction for Stephen Robinson, for killing a security guard in Trinidad & Tobago in 2002.  Robinson, who suffers from chronic schizophrenia, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2009, despite uncontroverted medical evidence which showed him to be affected by illness at the time.

The Privy Council, still Trinidad & Tobago’s highest court, said that Robinson unquestionably suffered from a chronic and incurable disease at the time of the killing and could not be said to be entirely responsible for his actions. Fresh evidence in the form of a forensic psychiatric report was provided to the court confirming the appellant’s medical condition.

Evidence of mental illness can mean the difference between life and death in Trinidad & Tobago where the death penalty is still mandatory for murder. However, raising the defence is often hampered by the lack of resources available for obtaining forensic psychiatric and psychological  evaluations. In a series of cases over the last decade, a large number of appeals have been allowed based on mental disorder

Next year, in appeals from Trinidad and Tobago, the Privy Council is to rule upon the constitutionality of imposing a death sentence on someone who suffers from mental disorder.

The judgment is here and a press release is here.

Paul Bowen QC appeared for the appellant pro bono, instructed by the Death Penalty Project.