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Ex murder accused wins $75 000 for wrongful detention

by Fernella Wedderburn
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The State has been ordered to pay former murder accused Pedro Deroy Ellis $75 000 for unlawfully detaining him for 18 days.

High Court judge Madam Justice Shona Griffith on Monday awarded Ellis $50 000 in non-pecuniary damages and $25 000 in vindicatory damages, saying that his constitutional rights had been breached when he was remanded to prison after being found not guilty of murder.

“This is a case in which an award of damages is necessary and appropriate . . . . This is a claim for deprivation of liberty,” the judge said.

In 2019, Ellis went on trial for the May 5, 2013 stabbing death of Antonio Harewood. At the end of that trial, the 12-member jury found him not guilty of murder but could not reach a verdict on manslaughter.

At the end of the proceedings, Justice Carlisle Greaves, who had presided over the matter, remanded Ellis to HMP Dodds while a decision was made on whether there would be a retrial.

However, his defence team of Larry Smith Q.C. and attorney-at-law Jamila Smith objected to their client being placed on remand and took the matter before the Court of Appeal which sided with them that there was no legal ground to keep Ellis.

Attorney-at-law Larry Smith Q.C. (FP)

The Court of Appeal ordered the release of the former murder accused in November 2019.

The three-member panel pointed out that Ellis was arraigned on a single count indictment for murder. The jurors, they said, returned a unanimous not guilty verdict for murder but there was no agreement on an alternative verdict for manslaughter and, as such, were released of their duty.

“The prudent course open to the judge was to order the release of the appellant. Thereafter, it was a matter for the DPP to decide whether any further action was required.

“We are not convinced that the appellant’s continued detention could be justified in the circumstances . . . . For the foregoing reasons, we allowed the appeal and ordered the immediate release of the appellant,” the Court of Appeal panel said in March 2020.

In handing down her decision on the issue of damages on Monday, Madam Justice Griffith affirmed that there was a breach of Ellis’ constitutional rights.

“According to the Court of Appeal decision, there was absolutely no reason and no basis for the claimant to have been returned to jail, and that the Court considers to be a significant circumstance in relation to its impact on the claimant,” she said, noting that Ellis essentially had his freedom in his hands but that was taken from him.

“And that is an element in this case and . . . the nature of the breach that has to be acknowledged. . . . It’s about what the infringement would have done to the claimant and redressing that. Eighteen days is not the numerical issue, it was the circumstances . . . of incarceration [with] criminal proceedings coming to an end and there being no lawful basis for detention,” Justice Griffith added.

Deciding on the quantum of the award, the judge said, “notwithstanding the 18 days, I would start at $50 000 but I would add an additional $25 000”.

“It is not so much the amount, compared to what was being asked . . . . The Court says ‘I find that is the appropriate award to be awarded damages’. I also find the cost in the circumstances where, in effect, your freedom was yanked from you at that stage, to be worthy of an additional award,” she added.

Justice Griffith also ruled that costs be assessed within three months of Monday’s date for payment to Ellis’ attorneys.

In their previous submissions, the lawyers had urged the court to award their client almost $900 000 in damages – $41 300 in pecuniary damages, $642 972 in non-pecuniary damages and $200 000 in vindicatory damages.

However, Principal State Counsel Marsha Lougheed disagreed with the “substantial” sum being sought.

“We accept that on October 8 he was to be freed. Regrettably, he was not, so we accept Mr Ellis is entitled to reasonable compensation for the deprivation of that liberty, limited, in our view, to the 18 days which would have followed the lawful conclusion of his criminal matter before the court,” the prosecutor said then.

fernellawedderburn@barbadostoday.bb

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