The Death Penalty in Barbados: Reforming a Colonial Legacy


This article explores the death penalty in Barbados. Drawing on the historical context and the punishment’s colonial origins, we seek to make sense of its more recent history, particularly a 2018 landmark legal judgment that has finally forced reform of the sanction in Barbados. The article explores the bifurcated penological history of the death penalty; while laws enacted in London were extended to colonial nations such as Barbados, suggesting a continuation of norms, the tools of criminal justice were wielded for different purposes in the metropole compared with the periphery. We consider the trajectory of this colonial imposition and the retention of repressive punishments after independence, the Caribbean resistance to international abolitionist pressure from the 1990s and the recent reform. The role of the death penalty as a political and symbolic tool is examined, considering especially the colonial legacy of capital punishment in Barbados and the extent to which this factor has shaped contemporary public debates on punishment.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2023-09-01
Pages:27 to 36
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How to Cite
Black, L., Seal, L., Seemungal, F., Malkani, B. and Ball, R. (2023) “The Death Penalty in Barbados: Reforming a Colonial Legacy”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 12(3), pp. 27-36. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2676.

Author Biographies

Maynooth University

Lynsey Black is lecturer/assistant professor in criminology, the School of Law and Criminology, Maynooth University, Ireland. She researches in the areas of gender and punishment, historical criminology, the death penalty, and borders. Her monograph Gender and Punishment in Ireland: Women, Murder and the Death Penalty, 1922-64 was published in 2022 with Manchester University Press.

Lizzie Seal is professor of criminology at the University of Sussex, UK. She researches in the areas of historical and cultural criminology. She is principal investigator on the British Academy-funded grant 'Race, Crime and Justice in Britain, 1870-1955'. She has published numerous books, most recently Gender, Crime and Justice with Palgrave in 2021.

University of the West Indies Open Campus
 Trinidad and Tobago

Florence Seemungal, former research officer Centre for Criminology University of Oxford, is a cognitive psychologist and adjunct staff, University of the West Indies Open Campus. Research interests include death penalty reform, offender profiling, mitigating domestic abuse, border criminology and human rights. Professor Roger Hood and Florence published seminal work on the implementation of the mandatory death penalty in the Caribbean between 2003-2020. With Lizzie Seal and Lynsey Black, Florence is involved in the monitoring of death penalty reform in Barbados and undertakes training seminars with stakeholders. Florence collaborated with her Oxford psychologist colleagues to implement a digital mentorship program with Barbadian juvenile incarcerates (2020-2021).

Bharat Malkani is reader in law in the School of Law and Politics, Cardiff University, UK. His research interests explore the intersection of human rights and criminal justice, with a particular focus on the death penalty, racism, and miscarriages of justice. His monograph, Slavery and the Death Penalty, was published by Routledge in 2018. He is currently under contract with Bristol University Press to publish a second monograph title 'The Law of Racial Injustice', due in 2024.

University of the West of England
 United Kingdom

Roger Ball is an historian and Research Fellow at the University of the West of England analysing the 1831 reform riots. His previous research has focused on post-war urban rioting in the UK. At Keele and Sussex Universities from 2016-2019, Roger worked with social psychologists in researching the English urban riots of August 2011. Subsequently he was lead researcher for a study of British abolitionist organisations and colonial policy in relation to the death penalty. Roger has published several books including studies of the Victorian workhouse and slavery, abolition and memorialisation in his home city of Bristol.