The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) clearly does not subscribe to the view that “you can take a cow to water but you can’t make it drink.” They used the opportunity presented by the case of Vincent Leroy Edwards et al v The Queen  CCJ 10 (AJ) to not only offer water to the administration of justice in Barbados, but to drown said cow in it.
Messieurs Edwards and Haynes were tried and convicted of murdering another young man. The only evidence against them were oral confessions which they denied making to the police. Their attorney at trial argued that the case should not have been put before the jury because the evidence was unreliable, “unacknowledged, uncorroborated and disputed”. The judge took the view that the confession as described was good enough evidence under the Evidence Act and submitted the case to the jury with a warning that the evidence might be unreliable.
The question the CCJ asked itself was: “Given the provisions of the Evidence Act of Barbados, may a person charged with an offence be properly convicted in circumstances where the only evidence against him is an unacknowledged, uncorroborated, oral confession allegedly made to investigating police officers whilst in police custody but which he denies making?”
The court referred to its own decision in Clarence Sealy v The Queen and stated that the Evidence Act “applies standards that are more stringent than the common law, compels the judiciary to be guided by fresh approaches and requires the executive [i.e. the Government] to make available to the police new technologies”.
At the end of the day, the CCJ concluded that “under the criminal justice system of Barbados, it is not permissible for a person charged with an offence to be convicted of that offence in circumstances where the only evidence against him is an unsigned and otherwise unacknowledged and uncorroborated confession which the prosecution allege was made to investigating police officers whilst in police custody but which he denies making. Something more is required either in the way independent verification that the admission was actually and voluntarily made, or in the way of other evidence that independently corroborates or otherwise points to the guilt of the accused.”
Twenty-three years after the Evidence Act was passed, the provisions relating to taped confessions/interviews still are not operative. Section 72 of the Act states that “(2) Evidence of the confession or admission is not admissible unless, (a) if the confession or admission was made in circumstances where it was reasonably practicable to tape-record the confession or admission, the questioning of the person and anything said by that person during that questioning were tape-recorded…” There is also provision for copies of any recordings to be made free of cost to the accused or his lawyer. If this section had been proclaimed along with the rest of the Act, then a judge could only admit a confession not obtained as specified if there were “special circumstances” which “would not be contrary to the interests of justice”.
The statement made by the court that “further detective work would have been warranted in this case”, tells you all you need to know about how the Royal Barbados Defence Force, in large part, operates. Imagine the number of killers and other assorted miscreants who could be out roaming the streets and the number of prosecutions which could fall through if we don’t get our act together and quickly. The court even noted that every idiot (my word, not theirs) has a smartphone. It’s actually easier to comply now than it was when the Act was first passed.
Yes, just in case you were wondering, this is the case that was the impetus for celebratory “gun salutes”, brazen threats to the police, terrorized neighbours and an army on orange alert.
The problem with this cow is that the rest of us might drown with it.