By Andre Bagoo Thursday, December 19 2013
THE COURT of Appeal yesterday handed down nine judgments in the space of two hours, including for cases which involved facts almost a decade old.
Such was the pace that–at one stage–Justice of Appeal Nolan Bereaux jogged out of court to keep up; a panel of judges had to come back into court to correct an error they made in sentencing; and distribution of one written ruling was delayed, ostensibly due to “the devil’s printer”.
As the court moved to clear outstanding matters ahead of its Christmas break, the judges, including Chief Justice Ivor Archie, handed-down long-awaited judgments in several cases, including that relating to the Cropper murders of 2001.
First up, at 9.08 am, was a ruling in CA.223/2011 between the University of Trinidad and Tobago and acla:works, an architecture and design firm. In just a few seconds, Archie disposed of the case, ruling, “the decision of the court is that the appeal would be dismissed with costs.” He then addressed the court-room generally, noting that other matters on the list for determination were delayed due to late arrival of prisoners.
“For those of you who are waiting on the other matters, the prisoners have not arrived as yet so we will delay the other matters until their arrival,” he announced. The Chief Justice then quipped, “So this delay is not one on me!” Archie and the other members of the panel for the case, Justices of Appeal Alice Yorke-Soo Hon and Rajendra Narine, then left the court.
A dozen people were gathered in the public gallery and about the same amount of lawyers were at the bar. Some laughed at the Chief Justice’s remark.
About ten minutes later, one prisoner was brought into the West Court of the Court of Appeal, Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain. The matter of CR.45/2008 – Ako Morris v the State, was then called, this time with a different panel of Justices of Appeal, namely Paula Mae Weekes; Nolan Bereaux and Rajendra Narine. The five-year-old case was disposed of in two minutes.
“This matter is set for judgment today,” said Weekes. “It is the unanimous decision of the court that the appeal of the conviction is dismissed. The appeal against the sentence is upheld. The sentence is varied to 14 years, nine months.” The panel then rose and briskly left the court, with Bereaux jogging to the judges’ special exit to the north of the court. He would soon be back.
By 10.02 am, the same panel returned to the court to correct an error in the sentence which they had announced. The correct sentence was 14 years, three months, Weekes said. They were then gone again.
At 9.32 am several prisoners were brought into the dock, accompanied by nine prisons officers and two police officers. At 9.35 am, CR.31/2006 – Gerard Wilson v the State was called, presided over by the Chief Justice, Justice of Appeal Allan Mendonca, and Weekes. Archie said the court would allow the appeal and substitute a verdict of manslaughter, instead of ordering a retrial.
“We are of the view that the maximum sentence of life imprisonment is not appropriate, but rather 30 years is,” Archie said of the case which saw Wilson convicted of the 2001 strangulation of Esther Vidale at her home in Siparia.
Archie said, “In this matter, the central issue was the question – ” He broke off before resuming, “There were several grounds of appeal. And for reasons which will appear in the written judgment we are now handing down....” There was a pause as Archie carefully read his notes and continued, “the appeal is allowed.” The Chief Justice then said, “we have to rise to be reconstituted.”
One minute later, Archie was back, this time with Yorke-Soo Hon and Weekes, for the long- awaited case of CR.44/2004 – Lester Pitman v the State. It took eleven minutes for the court to deal with the case which, like the Wilson case, had been at the centre of complaints over tardy judicial rulings and which even resulted in one threat of impeachment being made against the Chief Justice by a lawyer. “In this matter, the appeal against conviction is dismissed and the conviction on the charge of murder is affirmed,” Archie said firmly. The case involved the shocking murders of Maggie Lee, Lynette Pearson, and John Cropper on December 11, 2001 at Second Avenue, Cascade. Cropper’s widow, former Independent Senator Angela Cropper, 66, died last year without the case having ever come to an end.
Pitman was sentenced to death, but Archie noted that because more than five years have elapsed, that sentence would be commuted to 40 years prison, in line with Privy Council authority.
Before rising once more, the Chief Justice then delivered a nine-minute statement in which he sought to account for the near three-year delay in the handing-down of judgment in the case.
As though in a sombre game of musical chairs, the court then rose again at 9.51 am to reconstitute itself for another case. The clerk called CR.31/2006 – David Ronald v the State at 9.52 am, with Archie presiding alongside Narine and Yorke-Soo Hon.
Archie said, “In this matter, the appeal against conviction is dismissed. The appeal against sentence is allowed. The court has decided to remit the matter for sentencing. We will rise yet again to be reconstituted.”
By 9.58 am, another panel was in place for CR.28/2007: Stephen “Yankee” Lopez v the State. Yorke-Soo Hon, Weekes and Bereaux unanimously allowed the appeal, quashed the sentence and ordered a retrial. Lopez was convicted on May 23, 2007, in the San Fernando High Court. The evidence showed that Lopez was first attacked with a cutlass by his victim and there were further signs of mitigating factors on the part of the appellant.
In relation to this case, Weekes told lawyers that, “the written judgment has been the victim of the printer’s devil. It will be printed today and can be collected tomorrow.”
The seventh case dealt with was: CR.31/2009 - Anton Hainsley Bruce v the State. Weekes, Yorke-Soo Hon and Narine set aside the conviction and sentence, replaced it with manslaughter and called for further submissions on sentencing. The case involved the 2009 murder of a 2-year- old by her 24-year-old father.
Bruce, a chef from Couva, had been found guilty of beating Kareema Roberts to death with the palm of his hand, on April, 8, 2009, to the extent that she suffered a ruptured liver and head injuries. The court will hear further submissions on February 11, 2014.
The judges did not sit in one court only.
At one stage in the morning, Archie, Narine and Justice of Appeal Maureen Rajnauth-Lee, presided over the East Court, whose regular trial activity had been cleared since November to make way for the day’s proceedings. There, they ruled on a case involving the controversial Eastern Regional Health Authority CEO Ameena Ali at 10.27 am. Another panel also sat in the same court, this time ruling on a case of compensation for injury at work at 11am.
In addition to handing down long-awaited rulings, the Court of Appeal also heard magisterial appeals involving a range of offences and sentences. The matters listed included: 64/2012 Devan Narine v PC Marlon Dass (breach of a traffic sign); P031/2013 PC Adjodha Clapdeosingh v Anand Sankar (loss of firearm/ammunition); and P049/2013: Keston Pollard v PC Nicholas Soyer (robbery with violence). There is normally a glut of Court of Appeal activity near the end of the year, lawyers said yesterday. However, some opined that the busy day attracted particular significance given recent complaints of judges being tardy in handing down judgments.
The court yesterday distributed several detailed written judgments, which outlined the reasoning of the judges and set out the current state of the law, among lawyers. High Court rulings were also delivered.
(See pages 5, 7, 9)