Inter-American Court finds serious breaches of prisoners’ rights in Trinidad and Tobago

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has handed down judgments finding that prisoners in Trinidad and Tobago suffered serious violations of their rights under the American Convention. The violations took place before Trinidad and Tobago denounced the American Convention in 1998 but the proceedings have taken many years to reach a final judgment. The State of Trinidad and Tobago remains responsible for these violations under international law and is liable to provide reparation as ordered by the Court.

In Dial et al v Trinidad and Tobago, Series C No 476, the Court found that the prisoners’ right to life was violated by the imposition of mandatory death penalties, even though the penalties were subsequently commuted. There were also violations of the prisoners’ right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment in light of the appalling prison conditions in which they were held. The State further violated the prisoners’ right to a fair trial and other rights under the Convention. In Bissoon et al v Trinidad and Tobago, Series C No 472, the Court also find violations arising from prison conditions and breaches of the right to a fair trial.

The prisoners in both cases were represented pro bono by Joe Middleton and Mark Seepersad (of the Trinidad and Tobago Bar) in the latter stages of the proceedings, instructed by Herbert Smith Freehill LLP. An expert report for the proceedings in the Inter-American Court was provided by Douglas Mendes SC (of the Trinidad and Tobago Bar).