Privy Council clarifies death penalty resentencing powers in Pratt & Morgan-type cases and entitlement to costs in public law cases

The Privy Council has confirmed that prisoners in Trinidad and Tobago who can no longer be executed because of long delays on death row, applying Pratt & Morgan [1994] 2 AC 1, are not limited to sentences of life imprisonment by way of constitutional relief. In Attorney General of Trinidad & Tobago v Naresh Boodram [2022] UKPC 20, the Board held that the High Court’s power “to make such orders … as it considers appropriate” in applications for constitutional relief was not limited to the imposition of life sentences, even if the practice since Pratt & Morgan had been to impose such sentences. The new sentence should reflect the individual circumstances of the case, and whilst some cases would be so serious as to warrant a life sentence, others would not. The Court of Appeal had rightly concluded that in Pratt & Morgan-type cases, the High Court could impose a life sentence with a tariff, a specified terms of years, or an order for detention at the court’s pleasure with periodic reviews.

This decision will affect dozens of prisoners in Trinidad and Tobago who were sentenced to death many years ago and are now entitled to a new sentence by way of Pratt v Morgan constitutional relief.

Mr Boodram also succeeded in his cross-appeal, which challenged the Court of Appeal’s refusal to award his costs. The Board accepted that there was no basis for the Court of Appeal to depart from the normal practice of awarding costs to the successful party. Any rule that prevented litigants from recovering their costs despite having succeeded on an important point of principle would have a chilling effect on public law challenges to unlawful action by the state.

Mr Boodram was represented by Mark Seepersad of the Trinidad and Tobago Bar and Joe Middleton, instructed by Herbert Smith Freehills LLP.