EU case confirms life for murder

Could affect Cayman ‘lifers’ challenge

Northward main

An appeal before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that failed earlier this year could have a major impact on upcoming Cayman-based court challenges to life imprisonment following conviction on 
murder charges.  

Under current criminal law in the Cayman Islands, judges have one option – life imprisonment – for a person convicted of murder.  

As far back as 2006, defence attorneys and the former Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee recommended that mandatory life sentences for murder be changed.  

The groups advocated on behalf of six convicted killers now serving time at Northward prison in Grand Cayman who had appealed to the former committee, asking it to investigate their cases. The group requested at the time that the Legislative Assembly give local judges more discretion in specific cases where life without parole may not be warranted. 

After a seven-month review, HRC attorneys concluded laws which impose life sentences for all offences of murder are contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as two other international human rights treaties. 

The committee said the prisoners would be highly likely to succeed if they took their claims before the European Court of Human Rights, and that they would probably be awarded damages. Attorneys also said Cayman could then be forced to change its laws. 

Since then, another local challenge to the life in prison sentencing guidelines has arisen involving one of the men imprisoned for life over the 2008 slaying of Estella Scott-Roberts in Grand Cayman. The appeal involves the same issue; that life prison sentences without the possibility of parole amount to cruel and unusual punishment.  

Those arguments were dealt a blow before the European Court of Human Rights in January, when three convicted murders lost their appeal claiming that whole-life sentencing tariffs condemning prisoners to die in jail amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.  

According to the Daily Telegraph, convicted killer Jeremy Bamber, who had been behind bars for more than 25 years after shooting his adopted parents, his sister and her 6-year old twin sons, attacked the decision.  

In a statement released by his supporters, he said: “If the state wishes to have a death penalty, then they should be honest and re-introduce hanging”. 

The European court judges ruled the whole-life tariffs were not “grossly disproportionate” and in each specific case London’s High Court had “decided an all-life tariff was required”.  

In the United Kingdom, whole-life tariff prisoners will usually not be released from prison ever unless they are freed on compassionate grounds when the prisoner is terminally ill or incapacitated.  


Cayman issues  

The Cayman Islands issues with regard to life sentencing guidelines also deal with proportionality.  

In Cayman, it is possible that the same sentence would be handed out for a mercy killing as would be given to someone convicted in a triple homicide. 

Human rights attorneys handling the “lifers” case recommended a system of tariffs, or minimum sentencing guidelines, be developed. The tariffs would allow judges to review the sentence after the minimum number of years had been served, and determine whether the convicted murderer was still a danger to society. 

In the case of the six Northward prison inmates, the Human Rights Committee said sentencing judges, or the chief justice, should be allowed to review the circumstances surrounding their crimes, and determine a minimum prison term. If any of the six had already been in prison longer than the minimum term, and a judge decides they pose no risk to the public, they would have to be released. 

The Caymanian Compass reviewed the details of each prisoner’s crime in the “lifers” case. 

Owen Barrington Bruce, Blandford Lowell Dixon, and Lensel Vernie Dixon were all charged and convicted in the January 1986 killing of Charles Evans Rankine. Mr. Rankine was the stepfather of Blandford and Lensel Dixon, who are brothers. All three men were sentenced to death, but had those sentences commuted to life in prison in 1991. William Stuart Powell was charged and convicted in the June 1986 shooting deaths of Charles and Gaynell Ebanks. Powell also had his death sentenced commuted. 

McAndy Ford Thomas was charged and convicted in the March 1990 death of 77 year-old Ratmir Pavlovic. Mr. Pavlovic was an employee of the Gold Royale jewellery store, and was killed during a robbery at the store. Another man who police said was involved in the heist, Jerry Machado Christian, was found guilty of manslaughter and given a 14-year sentence. Mr. Christian was not involved in the HRC appeal. 

In January 1994, George Roper and another inmate barricaded themselves in a cell at the Northward prison. A prison employee died in the incident after prison officers attempted to get into the cell. 


The facilities of Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward are located in Grand Cayman. – Photo: File


  1. When the penalty for a murder conviction was changed to life imprisonment a number of years ago,many argued against it. Since then the ones who have been sentenced have served varying terms of imprisonment, often not ‘life’. Since the onset of Human Rights and the efforts of defence attorneys, we see a further dilution leading to the present reasoning that it is against the human rights of someone who takes the life of another person, to be detained for the rest of their life.
    Whilst 15 years locked up is some form of deterrent, the certainty of a remainder of life behind bars as a conviction and nothing less, should have more of an impact.
    In all of this we should ask, what about the rights of the person who was murdered? No ‘let out’ after 15 years for them.

  2. Appeal, what a joke. The cruel and unusual is the fact that the Government has to shoulder the annual cost of a virtually useless subhuman. I vote for providing a cocktail of drugs that is concocted of a similar mix given to dogs when they are ready to be put down.
    Some dude whacks his adoptive parents, sister and her twins and oh, it’s poor me. 25 years and I need out and I want to be awarded damages. Yikes, we getting way too soft here.

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