The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has overturned a Barbados Court of Appeal decision, in which lawyers for four convicted drug traffickers were told last year that they were “out of time” when they sought to appeal their sentences and convictions.
The CCJ, the island’s highest appellate court, handed down the decision this morning at its Port of Spain, Trinidad headquarters. The CCJ again rapped the “inordinate systemic delay” of the Barbados judiciary as it ordered the Barbados Court of Appeal to expedite hearing the cases of the three men and one woman.
In a 2009 trial which lasted 16 weeks and was deemed the longest running in Barbados’ history, Guyanese nationals, Rohan Shastri Rambarran, Gavin Wayne Greene, Lemme Michael Campbell and Somwattie Persaud, were four of six foreign nationals convicted for importing over $6 million in drugs into the island four years earlier.
Their combined sentences totalled 428 years in prison for 28 drug offences, involving 91.3 kilogrammes of marijuana and 119.4 kilogrammes of cocaine. The quartet was sentenced to terms ranging from 15 to 30 years, to run concurrently.
Their attorneys sought to appeal both the convictions and sentences on the quartet’s behalf, stating that the appeal had been entered within the 21 days after sentencing as required by law. The appeals were never heard.
Director of Public Prosecutions Charles Leacock, QC, argued why he considered the appeal to be “out of time”, stating that any appeal should have been made within the stipulated period after the four received their guilty verdicts. Since that was not done, he argued the appellants were now too late to appeal their conviction.
The Barbados Court of Appeal upheld that view and deemed that since the appeals were filed out of time, the Court could not hear them.
Lawyers, including Sir Richard Cheltenham, QC, and Shelley Seecharan who are representing Rambarran; Arthur Holder, Kendrid Sargeant and Shane Thompson, who are acting on behalf of Campbell; and Marlon Gordon and Safiya Moore who are representing Greene and Persaud, took their case to the CCJ last year.
The attorneys sought to have a ruling on the decision by the Court of Appeal, which had determined that the original appeals were “out of time”.
One of the grounds which the lawyers took before the CCJ was to have that court define and clarify the term “conviction” in the Barbadian context; specifically whether a “conviction” occurs when the jury returns a verdict or whether it includes the sentencing process.
The CCJ’s decision was that a “conviction” includes sentencing and therefore appeals made up to 21 days afterwards were valid. Further, the attorneys were given leave to take their initial appeals back to the Court of Appeal to be heard.
In directing the Court of Appeal to hear the appeals expeditiously, the CCJ pointed out the fact that the appellants who were sentenced to 15 years would complete their terms in March 2016, possibly without their appeals being heard.
The CCJ cited this as an example of the “inordinate systemic delay” of the Barbados judiciary and advocated, once again, that steps be taken to address this situation.