The Yannick Lander case: Justice delayed is indeed Justice denied
The murder trial of Yannick Lander of Castle Comfort received a permanent stay of prosecution by trial judge Justice Thomas W. R. Astaphan at the Roseau High Court on Friday, June 9, 2023, brought on by attorney Zena Moore-Dyer.
Judge Astaphan, on Friday, July 7, 2023, read a 54-page judgement in his oral decision. He warned up front that there would be repetition and going over the same grounds as he went on to detail why the trial of an accused should be tried in a reasonable time to allow all concerned to move on with their life. He quoted judgements, case law and decisions of higher courts from many jurisdictions, such as in Canada, Privy Council and Caribbean countries, among others.
Justice Astaphan told the court, attended by the accused man and his parents, that the accused, Yannick Lander, was arrested on November 12, 2008, and was only indicted (formal charge of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions preceding commencement of the trial) in 2018, 10 years after the offence.
He upheld the stay of prosecution, which covers not only that charge of murder but any other that might be brought up against the accused because of the applicant's right to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
These latter reasons, fair trial within a reasonable time, formed the background for the Judge's decision. The state had 17 witnesses listed for its case, seven of whom were unavailable, including through death.
Lander was charged on November 15, 2008, and brought before a magistrate on November 17, 2008. No trial was held until June 5, 2023, 14 years and five months after being charged with the offence.
The applicant, Lander, cited that the unavailability of medical reports from the Psychiatric Unit would not make for a fair trial for him – bending towards unsound mind and insanity at the time of the incident. No such records were brought before Magistrate Tiyani Behanzin, who started the preliminary inquiry (PI), and the question of fitness to plead did not arise. Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Nadia Wallace told the court on May 15, 2023, that Lander had a history of being treated by Dr Griffin Benjamin, but Hurricane Maria could have destroyed the records.
The Judge's position was that it would be impossible for Lander to have a fair trial. An accused is supposed to have a fair trial within a reasonable time unless the matter is withdrawn according to the Constitution. The charge has not been withdrawn. The 14 years five months-time lapse is a breach of the rights to a fair trial within a reasonable time. And the court has the power to address any breach of the applicant's rights to a fair trial. If all the 17 witnesses were available, the stay would still have been granted because of the breach of the rights of the accused to a timely trial.
The familiar maxim: Justice delayed is Justice denied holds.
Justice Astaphan cited reasons which arise from the long delay, like death, stress of all concerned, mounting a defence, and failed memory. Timely trials make for public confidence in the overall administration of Justice. Dominica expects Justice that can be delivered in a timely manner, which serves the interest of Justice.
Judge Astaphan noted that the 14 years five months speaks to a culture of complacency. The trial should have been tried and completed within six years. And that's why he granted the stay of proceedings.