September 25, 2020

A bright day for justice, says QC

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Ramon Alberga

Injecting public sentiment into the justice system can threaten the heart of a nation’s legal structure, meaning a judge must base an unpopular verdict on strict legal principles.

The 31 August not-guilty verdict in the murder trial of Devon Anglin was, in a sense, almost forced upon visiting Jamaican Grand Court Justice Howard Cooke, according to Ramon Alberga, OBE and doyen of the local legal fraternity.

“It was a brave, a bright, day for justice,” he said, assailing post-verdict remarks by a clearly frustrated Commissioner of Police, David Baines, who called the acquittal “a desperate day for justice in the Cayman Islands.”

Mr Baines said he and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), former Solicitor General Cheryll Richards, would explore the possibility of an appeal, and wondered if “judge-alone” trials were the best alternative.

“Judges work on the application of the law,” he told iNews, “while juries work on the facts.” Asked if police, in the face of Mr Anglin’s acquittal of the February 2010 murder of 4-year-old Jeremiah Barnes at West Bay’s Hell gas station, would mount a hunt for the “real” killer, Mr Baines was terse.

“I would laugh if that were funny,” he told iNews.

Mr Alberga said Mr Baines was justified to call for an appeal.

“I don’t think he would have done anything to say “the Director of Public Prosecutions and I will investigate the possibility of an appeal.’ He has a right to make that statement,” Mr Alberga said, “but it was not a ‘desperate day for justice.’

“No one could fail to be sympathetic to the son who lost his life”, but Justice Cooke faced the question of who had pulled the trigger.

“I can’t see that anything went wrong.” He understood all the principles and applied them. He said the only issue was the identification and there was no further issue.”

Citing numerous inconsistencies Justice Cooke dismissed the identification of Mr Anglin by Andy Barnes, father of 4-year-old murder victim Jeremiah Barnes. The judge similarly discarded the testimony of mother Dorlisa Ebanks, whom he said, could only have caught “a fleeting glance” of the gunman.

“If he had agreed the identity of the gunman was Anglin, then he’d have convicted. On the basis of what he had heard, though, he could not have found otherwise. He had nowhere to go as a matter of law.” Mr Alberga said.

Public sentiment, outraged by the decision, moved against Justice Cooke, suggesting he was incapable and had passed retirement age, charges Mr Alberga rejected.

“He sat on the bench for more than 20 years,” Mr Alberga said, “and is very experienced. Nobody complained of [his age] and that area was never raised as an issue.

“My view is that there is a role for public opinion, but it cannot really be taken seriously,” he said. “A case must be decided by law, and if a judge acted in disregard of the law, it would vitiate the entire legal system.”

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