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Soldier’s tardiness rapped

by Emmanuel Joseph
5 min read

An impassioned plea from a senior defence counsel on Tuesday saved an accused soldier from being detained in military custody until the end of his court martial.

On day six of the trial in which Private Roheem Reeves is charged with leaving duty on March 14, 2021 without permission while he was part of a COVID-19 Sanitization Unit posted at the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) headquarters, St Ann’s Fort, the Garrison, attorney-at-law Michael Lashley, Q.C. implored President of the Court Lieutenant Commander John Mapp not to penalize his client for failure to be present when the case resumed this morning.

An emotional Lashley told the court that he had advised his client to go and see a doctor after he was coughing and complained of not feeling well. He contended that from the beginning of the trial Reeves has been present and on time.

The senior lawyer urged the court to consider that his client has been contributing to national development as a soldier particularly in the execution of duties in the “dangerous” job of sanitizing those vehicles that transport COVID-19 patients.

The Q.C.’s intervention followed a decision by the president to address the absence of the accused after giving notice that the trial could not resume today because the Judge Advocate Krystal Delanie was awaiting the results of a COVID test and would therefore be away.

About 15 minutes before Private Reeves eventually turned up in the courtroom, the presiding military officer informed Lashley that his client was still subject to military law which requires him to be present at the beginning of a court martial.

He further told the court that even if Reeves was ill that information should be passed on to his superiors.

The president had also cautioned the defence counsel that when a soldier is not present for the start of his trial a bench warrant could be issued for his arrest.

Prosecutor Neville Corbin then rose to his feet and declared that every seven days, an accused soldier must see an army doctor by presenting himself before a medical practitioner at the Florence Gittens Medical Centre.

But in Reeves’ defence, Lashley begged the president not to sanction him, pointing out that he had advised him to report to the court even though he was coughing.

However, Lieutenant Commander Mapp informed the senior attorney that doctors are provided for in the army and when persons are sick, they must first report to the BDF and not somewhere else.

On his arrival during the discussion, the accused told the court he was waiting on a call to go to the [private] doctor.

But the president asked him: “Are you aware you were to come here first?”

“Yes,” accused Reeves replied.

“Are you aware you are still under military law and we have doctors here to treat you?” the presiding officer probed.

“That is where the misunderstanding occurred,” the accused soldier responded.

“Will it reoccur?” the president pressed.

“No sir,” Reeves assured.

Lashley again intervened and argued that this was the first time his client was absent adding that “he apologized and I apologized on his behalf”.

But the prosecutor told the court that he called Private Reeves on the telephone this morning and in a conversation over heard by another official, the accused said he was not in court because his lawyer told him the case would not resume today.

Prosecutor Corbin insisted that Reeves’ absence therefore had nothing to do with any sickness. He went further and suggested that the accused be placed in military custody for the remainder of the trial citing the Queen’s Regulations and the Defence Act which support Reeves being remanded.

Corbin accused the defence attorney of continuing to disrespect the BDF and asked the court to disregard his contention that Reeves had been present and on time on each previous occasion.

Once again Lashley jumped to the defence of his client and appealed to the president to allow the embattled soldier to return to court on his own rather than remanding him to military prison

“We should move forward with this trial. He is being remorseful,” Lashley declared.

The president then ruled in favour of the defence, but issued a strong warning to the accused and to Lashley that if the act was repeated, no negotiation would be entertained and Reeves would be arrested.

The presiding officer told the accused he would be allowed to go home and return to court on his own, adding “You only have one strike. After that there are no more chances.”

Before adjourning the sitting until Wednesday morning at 10.30, the president promised the senior counsel he would receive at the earliest convenience, the transcripts of the proceedings which he requested. (emmanueljoseph@barbadostoday.bb)

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