The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Barbados’ highest appellate court, has raised concern about the suspension of the section of the Barbados Evidence Act which provides for audio and video recording of police interviews of criminal suspects.
A majority of the Court criticized the situation as the CCJ heard an appeal brought by Clarence Sealy who was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment at HIMP Dodds for indecent assault of a six-year-old girl. The conviction was unanimously upheld and the prison sentence affirmed.
The Court took the view that electronic recording provides the most reliable means of ascertaining the validity of confessions. It noted that had this technology been used in the Sealy case, many of the contentious issues which were discussed would not have arisen.
Sealy’s appeal was based on two grounds. Firstly, that the trial judge had wrongly allowed the police officers in the case to read aloud from their notebooks certain admissions they said Sealy had made at the Police Station when he was being interviewed.
Sealy had not signed or otherwise acknowledged making these admissions and he denied having made them at the trial. Secondly, Sealy complained that the trial judge had not properly warned the jury on how to deal with the admissions.
On the first ground, a majority of the Court ruled that the trial judge had made some errors in the course of allowing the police witnesses to read aloud the unauthenticated admissions. However, the majority found that there was sufficient evidence outside of the police testimonies on which Sealy could have been convicted.
The majority therefore found that Sealy had suffered no injustice. Mr Justice Nelson took the view that the trial judge had acted properly throughout when she dealt with the unsigned statements and gave permission to the police officers to read aloud from their notebooks.
As to the second ground, the Court unanimously held that the trial judge’s summing-up in this particular case was adequate.
Arising from this appeal, the majority judgment gave extensive guidance to Barbadian trial judges on how they should approach unsigned statements made by suspects and also on the directions that must be given to the jury when such statements have been admitted into evidence.
Attorneys-at-law Satcha Kissoon and Philip McWatt appeared on behalf of Sealy. Principal Crown Counsels Alliston Seale and Lancelot Applewaite now deceased appeared on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions in the appeal which was heard several months ago. The Court was presided over by Mr Justice Nelson along with Justices Saunders, Wit, Hayton and Anderson.