One of this island’s leading defence attorneys expects that more of the guilty will be convicted and the innocent will go free as a result of a recent ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which ordered the release of two convicted Barbadian killers.
Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim, who represented Vincent Edwards and Richard Haynes in a murder case for the 2006 killing of Damien Alleyne, told Barbados TODAY Wednesday evening that the ruling by this country’s highest court would also force police officers to gather more sound evidence.
“The absence of a ruling to this effect has been a significant problem for us over the last 20, 30 years. What it meant was that police could verbal an accused . . . that is, put an oral statement in the mouth of an accused and lock him up based on that; juries would be told that is enough,” Pilgrim said, adding that for a long time the local court of appeal and high court judges had felt that was the way to go.
“This case makes it clear that you will require more than just a verbal. The case also points investigations in the direction of thorough examination of evidence, but more importantly point them in the direction and use of technology to record confessions, so you don’t get this thing of ‘he say, she say’ being the basis of a trial,” the top defence lawyer noted.
He described the CCJ decision as extremely important “in that it is going to cause evidence to improve, it will protect good police officers and it will lead to the guilty being convicted”.
Earlier this week, the Trinidad and Tobago-based CCJ found that Edwards and 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, Pilgrim had argued that there was no case for his clients to answer, and after considering his argument, Justice Winston Anderson ruled that the two men 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, it said.
“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.
Saunders was also of the view that even if the evidence were 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 constitutionality 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.