A Barbadian convicted of manslaughter has lost his final appeal against his conviction.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Monday dismissed the challenge brought by James Ricardo Alexander Fields, formerly of Bank Hall Main Road, St Michael, who was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of Michael Dear, on February 18, 2010. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison for manslaughter.
The CCJ, which met in Barbados in the Supreme Court Complex on White Park Road, St Michael, ruled that there was no miscarriage of justice on the part of the local Court of Appeal when it threw out Fields’ legal challenge.
The regional court said that the appeal was largely concerned with whether the jury was misdirected by the trial judge on how to treat with a witness whom the jury considered may be deliberately untruthful in one or more particulars.
The appellant argued that the direction to be given to the jury must follow the direction approved by the Court of Appeal in a previous case known as Scantlebury v R.
“That direction is to the effect that if the jury finds that a witness was deliberately lying on oath, then they must reject the whole of that witness’ evidence, because if the witness lied on one matter, they would be quite capable of lying on another matter,” Field’s legal team argued.
However, the respondent disagreed that this direction was proper and contended that issues of credibility and reliability are within the exclusive competence of the jury, relying on the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal decision of Nelson v R and also on model directions from various jurisdictions.”
“In light of the opinions expressed, the Court concludes that the trial judge did not misdirect the jury, that the Scantlebury direction is wrong in law and ought not to be followed, [that] a trial judge is entitled to direct the jury that the fact that a witness has lied is relevant to the reliability and credibility of that witness,” a majority verdict authored by CCJ President Adrian Saunders and Justice Winston Anderson stated.
“Equally,” the CCJ added, “the judge is entitled to direct the jury to guard against assuming that the fact that the witness had lied about one matter must mean that the witness must automatically be taken as having lied about something else, and [that] the trial judge should emphasise that the ultimate decision about what weight is to be given to the evidence, is a matter for the jury.”
“In the instant case, the Court of Appeal was right to hold that there had been no miscarriage of justice. In all the circumstances, the Court dismisses the appeal,” it ruled.
Meanwhile, the CCJ upheld the appeal on the ground that the Court of Appeal erred in holding that the trial judge was not bound to follow the standard direction.
“However, even though the trial judge and the Court of Appeal erred in the direction on lying, it did not result in any miscarriage of justice. I would therefore not disturb the disposal of the case by the Court of Appeal. Finally, I would not overrule and correct the standard direction in this case,” the regional tribunal pronounced in its judgment on Monday.
The CCJ recalled that the appellant had challenged his conviction to the regional court, citing seven grounds of appeal. Special leave was granted to argue only one ground: that the learned Justices of Appeal erred in law when they held that the learned trial judge correctly directed the jury on how to treat the evidence of a witness that the jury believed to be deliberately lying on oath.
In a dissenting judgment, Justice Andrew Burgess said that given that the issues in the appeal could be easily decided based on stare decisis, a legal doctrine that dictated that the trial judge was bound to follow the standard direction laid down in the Court of Appeal precedents and High Court decisions.
He suggested that the CCJ “should not overrule the Scantlebury direction because to do so could compromise the advantages of the stare decisis doctrine as there was not sufficient basis for overruling the standard direction in this case”.
While the Court of Appeal had dismissed the challenge against Fields’ conviction, it varied his sentence to 11 years behind bars.