Clockwise from left: Justice Saunders, Shillingford and Astaphan
Clockwise from left: Justice Saunders, Shillingford and Astaphan

By far the most sensational story of 2020 was the murder trial of Rodman Moses Lewis who killed his ex-girlfriend most brutally on Independence Day, 2015. That trial spanned six weeks, from October 5 to November 13, 2020.

Lewis, a well-built 26-year-old ex-prison officer who battered the head and face of Triscia Riviere of Stock farm with his boots and a gas cylinder, may face the death penalty, an act of legal state-sanctioned killing banned in many countries and un-used in Dominica for decades.

Judge Wynante Adrien-Roberts is to decide Rodman's fate in early 2021.

The Lewis trial was also the first major criminal case since the High Court resumed on 23 September after it was suspended in January, 2020 due to COVID-19. The civil division has been meeting via ZOOM.

Additionally, in 2020 the legal fraternity received an awakening when nine lawyers formed a new group to "speak out more often on matters of public interest", said Cara Shillingford who spoke at the committee's inauguration ceremony in October.

"We are concerned about the high levels of dysfunction within the various arms of government," said Shillingford, a founding member of the Committee of Concerned Lawyers (CCL). "Many statutory boards, commissions and institutions which are supposed to serve and protect have been rendered ineffective and toothless because of legislative hinges and political interference".

Shillingford said these boards and commissions "are crowded with party supporters and yes-men who are more concerned about not rocking the boat rather than protecting the public interest."

Two other issues illustrated disquiet in the judiciary.

One was the call for, especially by the political opposition, the transfer of resident judge Justice Bernie Stephenson. There were rumors that she was being transferred to Montserrat after serving in Dominica since 2009.

"I am not being transferred," Justice Stevenson told THE SUN when the newspaper inquired about the alleged transfer.

The other issue that focused attention on the judicial system was the appointment of a judge to hear election petition cases coming out of the December 2019 general election.

Strike out!

Lawyers for the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) asked the court to "Strike Out" all election petition claims filed by the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) challenging the results of the December 6, 2019 general elections in ten constituencies.

In the petitions filed on December 30, 2019 a politician who won a seat at the December 06, 2019 election was being accused of having dual citizenship. Others allegedly bribed and treated their way to victory and imported voters to vote for the DLP, election petition court documents and a report of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) claimed.

In the petitions, the UWP challenged results of the election in Castle Bruce, Morne Jaune, Laplaine, Wesley, Roseau Central, Roseau South, Salybia, Roseau Valley, Mahaut and St. Joseph.

But there was much acrimony about the selection of a judge to hear the case. First, when the case was expected to begin in June, citizen Loftus Durand and the UWP asked Judge Bernie Stephenson to recluse herself. The opposition then wrote to Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Dame Janice M. Pereira expressing their concern.

Judge Bernie Stephenson reclused herself.

Then the government, through the Attorney General Levi Peter, also asked Dame Pereira to assign another judge other than the other resident judge, Wynante Adrien-Roberts, who was expected to be assigned to hear the case.

Following that letter, Dame Pereira assigned Judge Eddy Vantose to the case but he too had to recuse himself after it was revealed that he had worked with the Roosevelt Skerrit administration.

Eventually, Judge Raulston Glasgow heard the case and agreed with the position of the government lawyers and struck out all ten UWP election petitions.

Lennox Linton, the Leader of the Opposition UWP) has since stated that the UWP would appeal the decision of High Court Judge Glasgow.

And finally, in early December, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) heard the appeal of 15 government ministers and ex-ministers who have been accused by UWP supporters Mervin Jno Baptiste, Antoine Defoe and Edincot St. Valle of the crime of treating in the 2014 general election in contravention of Section 56 A of the House of Assembly Elections Act.

Earlier judges of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court sent the treating case back to magistrate court to be heard there after an appeal. But Government's lawyer, Anthony Astaphan, appealed to the CCJ, Dominica's highest court.