The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Tuesday quashed the convictions of the two Barbadian men, who were sentenced to death for the 2006 murder of Damien Alleyne.
The CCJ, which is Barbados’ highest court, ruled that Vincent Edwards and Richard Haynes’ convictions could not be upheld due to the presentation of insufficient evidence by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The only evidence linking the appellants to the murder was their alleged oral confessions made in separate interviews with officers of the Royal Barbados Police Force while at the Glebe Police Station on July 19, 2007, almost a year after Alleyne’s murder.
As such, Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim had argued that there was no case for his clients to answer and after considering the argument, Justice Winston Anderson ruled that the two death row inmates should be allowed be walk free.
In a concurring judgment, Justice Adrian Saunders also acknowledged that, prior to the Evidence Act, an accused person could be convicted solely on an alleged oral confession, provided that the jury was warned that such a conviction may be unsafe.
However, the CCJ pointed out that the purpose of the Evidence Act, which was passed by the Parliament of Barbados in 1994, was “to reform the law relating to evidence in proceedings in courts” and to apply “standards that are more stringent than the common law, [compel] the judiciary to be guided by fresh approaches and [require] the executive to make available to the police new technologies”.
Therefore, the evidence against Edwards and Haynes had to be reliable, especially given that the punishment on the statute books in Barbados for murder was death.
“Based on the spirit of the Evidence Act, alleged confessions made while in police custody could only meet this standard where it was supported by sound or video recordings of or by some other independent evidence linking the accused to the offence. For example, evidence from a witness other than another police officer or some form of forensic evidence (e.g. DNA or fingerprint). In this case, there was no other evidence and as such the judge should have dismissed the case against the appellants,” the Trinidad-based court said.
Justice Saunders was also of the view that even if the evidence was sufficient, the judge did not properly warn the jury in accordance with the Act.
Back in November 2015, the CCJ had rejected an earlier application filed on behalf of the two accused men and ordered that their case be sent back to the Barbados Court of Appeal.
At the time, Edwards and Haynes, who were convicted of murder in June 2013 and sentenced to death, were challenging the unconstitutionality of the mandatory death penalty, but the CCJ had sent the matter back to the Barbados Court of Appeal for a determination of how that issue should be resolved.