Higgs and Mitchell v The Minister of National Security and others: PC 14 Dec 1999

(Bahamas) The applicants appealed against sentences of death, saying that the executions would be unlawful while there was a pending appeal to the OAS.
Held: The appeals failed. The Bahamas was a member of the Organisation of American States, but the rules of that organisation had not been incorporated into its law. The planned execution of prisoners before obtaining a result from an application to the OAS for decision on whether there had been a breach of the prisoner’s human rights was not unlawful.
An international treaty could only be incorporated by statute, and a national court could not rule on what was an issue for that international organisation. The fact that treaties are not part of domestic law is the ‘corollary’ of the Crown’s treaty-making power.
PC The Bahamas (Appeal No.45 of 1999). The appellants had been convicted of murder, and had exhausted all normal avenues of appeal. They had petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and awaited a decision. They sought to appeal pending the result of the petition, and claimed that the prolonged delay in carrying out the death penalty contravened Art 17(1) of the constitution.
Held: The OAS is an international Treaty, and accession to it is an act of the Crown, but does not become part of domestic Bahamian law without enactment by the legislature. This case fell within Fisher (No 2). No legitimate expectation had been created that the execution would await the result of the OAS petitions. The Bahamian constitution did not have a due process clause to bring the case within Thomas v Baptiste. Pre-trial delay can seldom be regarded as an additional form of punishment to make the delay a cruel and unusual punishment, and nor could the prison conditions of themselves add to such a claim. It is a question of fact and degree. Appeals dismissed (Lord Steyn and Lord Cooke dissenting)


Lord Steyn, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough, Mr. Justice Henry


Times 23-Dec-1999, [1999] UKPC 55, [2000] 2 AC 228, [1999] 1 WLR 1679


Bailii, PC




CitedTrevor Nathaniel Fisher v The Minister of Public Safety and Immigration and Others PC 16-Dec-1997
(The Bahamas) The extent of a delay before a trial is not relevant when considering whether a subsequent delay in carrying out an execution is cruel and inhuman punishment . .
CitedJH Rayner (Mincing Lane) Ltd v Department of Trade and Industry HL 1989
An undisclosed principal will not be permitted to claim to be party to a contract if this is contrary to the terms of the contract itself. Thus the provision in the standard form B contract of the London Metal Exchange ‘this contract is made between . .
CitedThe Parlement Belge CA 1879
An action in rem indirectly impleaded a sovereign who was the owner of the vessel served because his property was affected by the judgment of the court. An unincorporated treaty cannot change the law of the land and, ‘the immunity of the sovereign . .
CitedTrevor Nathaniel Fisher v The Minister of Public Safety and Immigration and Others (No 2) PC 5-Oct-1998
PC (The Bahamas) The applicant had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death. His case was pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. He appealed a second time to the board, saying the . .
CitedDarrin Roger Thomas and Haniff Hilaire v Cipriani Baptiste PC 17-Mar-1999
(Trinidad and Tobago) If the reason for delay in executing a prisoner was the slowness of bodies with whom appeals had been undertaken, that delay itself was not to be considered a good reason for preventing the execution. A delay period above 18m . .

Cited by:

CitedNapier, Re Petition for Judicial Review; Higgs v The Scottish Ministers OHCS 26-Apr-2004
The petitioner complained of the conditions in the Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow.
Held: The conditions in the prison infringed the petitioner’s human rights against inhuman or degrading treatment and respect for privacy, and he was entitled to . .
CitedGianchand Jahree v The State PC 28-Feb-2005
(Mauritius) The defendant appealed his conviction for possession of counterfeit bank notes, saying he had been unrepresented throughout, and that the magistrate had intervened in the character of a prosecutor.
Held: The right to representation . .
CitedMiller and Another, Regina (on The Application of) v Secretary of State for Exiting The European Union SC 24-Jan-2017
Parliament’s Approval if statute rights affected
In a referendum, the people had voted to leave the European Union. That would require a notice to the Union under Article 50 TEU. The Secretary of State appealed against an order requiring Parliamentary approval before issuing the notice, he saying . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

International, Criminal Sentencing, Constitutional

Updated: 01 June 2022; Ref: scu.159387