Justice Thomas rules in police officers murder charge case
Justice Errol Thomas has granted leave for judicial review in the case of five police officers who have been charged with the murder of a prisoner. Full details of Justice Thomas's judgment will be provided in a later story.
The officers are PC's Orlan Vigille, Delvin Challenger, Martin Seaman, WPC Gemma Louis and Sergeant Hayden Morgan. They were arrested and charged for the murder of Joshua Etienne who was found dead in police cells in Portsmouth a day after he was arrested for possession of ammunition.
Two weeks ago, a number of lawyers headed by Lennox Lawrence convinced magistrate Bernard Pacquette to "stay the matter" as the charge was being read in the magistrate's court. Lawrence and the other lawyers have since petitioned the High Court seeking leave for judicial review.
At the High Court hearing before Justice Errol Thomas two weeks ago, Lawrence argued that the State was in contravention of the Coroner's Act and that "without the finding of the jury, no determination in law that a homicidal death had occurred or what was the cause of death" and so the State could not proceed to charge the defendants.
"In view of the body of legislature, the applicants are entitled to protection as provided by the Coroner's Act…all they have to do is to persuade the court that they have an arguable case as it relates to the Coroner's Act," Lawrence said.
He then compared the Dominica Coroner's Act and the Grenada Coroner's Act saying that with the exception of Section 9, "they are the same". He said that in Grenada a similar case existed and since no Coroner's court was convened the court ruled in favour of the five police officers who were charged with manslaughter.
"Dominica's Coroner's court was opened and adjourned sine die…so that was tantamount to the same as Grenada not being convened," he said.
But Justice Thomas disagreed with him on that view.
"Counsel, did I hear you say that the adjournment of the Coroner in Dominica is the same as not being convened in Grenada," the Judge asked as he looked at the lawyer under his glasses.
In response, Attorney General Levi Peter, lawyers Sherma Dalrymple from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Tamika Hyacinth slammed Lawrence's presentation. Dalrymple disagreed that the Grenada and Dominica Coroner's Act were identical.
"They are different and very different. Dominica's Coroner's Act allows for criminal proceedings and inquest to run parallel, which is not the case in Grenada. Section 39 of Dominica's legislation is key and Grenada does not have this section," she said.
She further stated that because of the vast difference in the Act when individuals are charged the Coroner in Dominica, according to section 27, has the power to adjourn and it is "not mandatory that an inquest is completed."
"Look at the Act wholly…the intention of the legislation, the inquest does not have to be concluded. There are no procedural irregularities in this matter, the legislation in Dominica and Grenada are different," she stated.
AG Peter told the court that "the issue is very simple" and is based on "whether the complaint filed was a lawful act and have they provided the court with a lawful complaint and the answer is yes, the Coroner acted properly and the Applicants have failed the test," he said.
But in rebuttal, Lawrence said he respectfully disagrees with the views of the AG.
Justice Thomas then thanked both sides for their extensive arguments which lasted for over three hours; he said given "the strong public interest and importance" he will endeavor to give a ruling within the "shortest possible time."
Meantime, the family of the deceased Joshua Etienne has been holding candle light vigils nightly outside Police Headquarters in Roseau and Portsmouth.
"We will be having this candle light vigil until the charge of murder is read to those responsible for his death", said Agnes Esprit, Etienne's sister. "And we will not be burying him until that time also. We want justice and we are asking all to continue to join us in the vigil."
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