All the cases left unfinished by former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar, when she controversially took up a judicial post in 2017, had to be restarted.
This was the decision of Justice Carol Gobin in the State’s interpretation summons on options available in circumstances where judicial officers demit office with part-heard cases before them. Gobin delivered a draft judgment in the case last Friday but only released a final edited version on Wednesday.
The decision is now largely academic as all but two of the 53 cases left unfinished by Ayers-Caesar were restarted or completed while the case before Gobin was still pending. The two remaining cases involve two groups of five and three men, who are on remand for murders which occurred in 2010 and 2012.
Attorneys representing those accused were only informed of the decision when the cases came up for hearing before Ayers-Caesar’s successor, Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle, in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court yesterday morning.
The accused could not be informed in person as they were not transported to court for the hearing due to stringent security measures associated with hearings of the preliminary inquiry of a group of men accused of murdering Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal.
In the 22-page judgment, Gobin said neither the Summary Court Act nor the Indictable Offences (Preliminary Enquiry) Act gives the power to continue a part-heard case before a different magistrate. She also considered several Commonwealth cases in which similar propositions were rejected, as she ruled that the cases would have to restart.
“This is what the law requires and as the case law establishes it has so far been recognised as an important mechanism to protect the Constitutional rights of an accused person to a fair trial and hearing,” she said.
As a secondary issue in the case, Gobin was asked to rule on a judicial review application from Akilli Charles, a man accused of murder whose preliminary inquiry before Ayers-Caesar was at an advanced stage when she left her post to take up a position as a High Court Judge in April 2017. Charles, who allegedly spent more than $150,000 in legal fees during the preliminary inquiry, claimed it would be oppressive to him and other accused persons.
Having ruled that there is no other option but to restart the case, Gobin rejected Charles’ application. However, she described what transpired and how it affected Charles and the other accused persons as a travesty of justice.
“The stain on the administration of justice will remain indelible long after the cries and protests of justifiably angry suffering prisoners have gone quiet and long after the families of victims who, too, have been waiting for justice to be done, resign themselves to further delay,” Gobin said.
She went on: “It may go some small way to alleviating the pain and injustice of this on all sides if those responsible are held to account.”
As part of the judgement, Gobin sought to give advice to the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) on how a similar circumstance can be avoided when magistrates are promoted in the future. She said each prospective candidates should be first asked how many part-heard cases they have.
“This, of course, should be backed by a system which can verify the answer. Indeed one would think that the state of a magistrate’s list, especially the state of the part-heard list, would be an important indicator of the candidate’s time and case management skills,” she said.
Although Charles’ claim was dismissed, Gobin still ruled that he was entitled to part of the legal costs from the State as she ruled that his involvement was reasonable in the circumstances. She also suggested that Busby-Earle-Caddle consider recusing herself from Charles’ new preliminary inquiry based on her previous involvement while the interpretation case was pending.
“It is enough that in Mr Charles’ unfortunate circumstances that this might restore some part of his faith in the system,” she said.
The Office of the Attorney General was represented by Gilbert Peterson, SC, Jason Mootoo and Rishi Dass, while Michael Quamina represented Busby-Earle-Caddle. Elaine Green represented the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
Anand Ramlogan, SC, Gerald Ramdeen and Ganesh Saroop represented Charles.
The Law Association and Criminal Bar Association were represented by Theresa Hadad and Rajiv Persad.
April 12, 2007—Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar sworn in as a High Court judge along with two other magistrates. Some of the accused persons affected by the 53 cases left unfinished by Ayers-Caesar staged a near riot as they reappeared before Ayers-Caesar’s successor, then acting Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle Caddle.
April 27, 2017—Ayers-Caesar tenders her resignation amid public furore over her unfinished case-load. The Judiciary issues a press release saying Ayers-Caesar would return as a magistrate to complete her part-heard cases.
May 9, 2017—The Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) headed by Chief Ivor Archie issues its own press release in which it states that Ayers-Caesar will not be returning to the magisterial bench. Busby-Earle-Caddle informs those whose cases were affected that they will have to be restarted before her and other magistrates.
June 1, 2017—The Law Association passes a motion of no confidence in Archie and the JLSC calling for them to resign over their handling of the Ayers-Caesar case.
July 2017—Ayers-Caesar files a lawsuit against Archie and the JLSC claiming she was pressured to resign. The case is still pending. JLSC members retired Judges Humphrey Stollmeyer and Roger Hamel-Smith resign citing personal reasons, including trauma to their families from undue criticism over their work.
September 1, 2017—The Office of the Attorney General files interpretation summons to decide the policy for restarting cases after a magistrate suddenly demits office.
May 26, 2018—Two Sea Lots men whose case was affected by the Ayers-Caesar fiasco are freed of the 2012 murder of three fishermen after they agree to have it restarted before Busby-Earle-Caddle. Busby-Earle-Caddle upholds their no case submission over insufficient evidence in the case against them.
January 4, 2019—High Court Judge Carol Gobin rules that there is no option but to continue the cases before a new magistrate. Gobin ruled that all cases had to be restarted. Most of the accused in the 53 cases, who agreed to restart their case, have had their cases determined.