Joint shop owners who previously pleaded guilty to violating a COVID-19 rule, were remanded pending sentence and later released on bail following an urgent application before the High Court, now want to change their plea.
When the case against the couple, Emma Ann Abrahim and Churaman Veerandra, of Pinfold and Roebuck Street, St Michael was called before Chief Magistrate Ian Weekes Tuesday, they were expected to be sentenced.
They had previously pleaded guilty to the February 8 charge of contravening Paragraph (3) Subparagraph (1) of the Emergency Management (COVID-19) (CURFEW) (NO.3) Directive that they being owners/ operators of a non-essential service not permitted to operate, failed to keep Aaron’s Fruit and Vegetable Mini Mart closed.
They were remanded to Dodds until March 22 pending sentence but were released on bail by the High Court earlier this month following an application by Queen’s Counsel Michael Lashley and his team of attorneys.
Lashley told Chief Magistrate Weekes that based on his instructions, his clients came before the court last month unrepresented.
He said: “They came and pleaded not guilty and then pleaded guilty.
“They have come here today with a view changing that plea. They retained me after [their first appearance] and their instructions to me suggest… they have a defence.”
But Chief Magistrate Weekes then said he took “umbrage” at clients who told half-truths to their attorneys.
He explained that the charge was read to the accused on their first appearance and they “appeared not to understand. They pleaded not guilty on my advice because they did not understand. The court then explained it to them”.
He added: “I went through it in detail, explaining the charge to them. They then discussed it among themselves and said ‘yes we understand now’ and therefore pleaded guilty. The facts were read and based on their guilty plea they explained what they did.”
Lashley replied: “We got instructions from my clients sir, and the summons . . . . Their instructions to us . . . is that they have a good defence, sir, that the information is flawed – it is not in conformity with the rules.”
Given the development, Weekes said the matter is again “alive”.
He also revealed that he was “no longer authorized to deal with COVID matters. I am only authorized to finish up my sentences”.
“I get offended when clients don’t tell the truth,” said the Chief Magistrate. “I take great umbrage to the way that these people behave telling half-truths to their lawyers making it seem as if they were railroaded – most unusual state of affairs,” he stated before transferring the case to the District ‘C’ Magistrates’ Court where it will be heard before Magistrate Elwood Watts on March 31 Lashley’s team is submitting that the case against their client should be dismissed “in light of all the procedural and other infelicities” associated with the matter.
Among their arguments is that the “information is invalid” as it does not conform to section 7 (1) of the Magistrates’ Court Rules; that the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit has no prosecutorial power and should not have read the facts of the case and that their clients were “prejudiced” given that they appeared in court 21 minutes after the service of the summons.