Wednesday, 2 July 2014

HISTORIC RULING – Former Grenada 17 prisoner scores legal victory in UK court

Ewart Layne, who has appealed a High Court judgement which rejected his application to become
a practising attorney in Grenada, believes that a recent UK Court judgement can have some positive impact on his matter.

The High Court in the United Kingdom last week Monday ruled that notwithstanding his recorded convictions for the tragic deaths of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and others on October 19, 1983, Selwyn Strachan possesses the requisite character and suitability to be admitted as a Solicitor to the legal profession.

In the appeal matter of Selwyn Strachan vs Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the presiding High Court Judge stated the following: “...The conclusion of the SRA that the appellant does not satisfy
the Suitability Test is flawed and cannot be relied upon to support an argument against waiver of the requirement of student enrolment.”

Both Layne and Strachan were imprisoned for their involvement in the October 1983 killings and both of them obtained legal education and qualification while imprisoned. They were released in 2009
following a re-sentencing after numerous appeals as provided in the justice system.

“The outcome of Strachan matter in London should not affect my matter negatively. Yes, it is a judgement that is not binding in Grenada, but precedent in law. It should have some bearings when my matter goes before the Appeal Court,” said Layne, who expects the matter to be heard later in the year when the OECS Court of Appeal meets in Grenada.

A press release from the London-based Committee on Human Rights Grenada said that in this landmark judgement delivered on June 23, 2014, Justice Charles, having already allowed Strachan’s appeal at the end of the hearing on February 11, 2014, held that the SRA, the independent regulatory body of the Law Society of England and Wales, was wrong to refuse to grant Strachan the right to pursue the Legal Practice Course (LPC) in the United Kingdom, so as to pave the way for his admission as an Attorney-at-Law in the jurisdiction of Grenada.

In this regard, the release said Justice Charles made it clear that if the SRA had not indicated its agreement during the hearing to abide by a waiver of the relevant regulation, he would have directed them to issue a certificate of enrolment to Strachan as that “would have been the only route open to me to ensure that the appellant was able to undergo the training that would enable him to seek and obtain authorisation from the Grenadian authorities to act as an Attorney-at-Law in Grenada”.

Further, the learned judge opined: “...In my view such an enrolment would likely to enhance rather than damage the reputation of the profession and its regulator the SRA in England and Wales in the exceptional circumstances of this case which clearly include the possibility that the appellant’s convictions did not accord with a proper application of the rule of law.”

In the judge’s view, “The SRA, in its decision-making process and so through the Committee, erred in principle and acted unfairly in reaching the Decision.”

Moreover, Justice Charles stated that “it is unfair and wrong for the SRA to assert (as it did) that a factor in favour of the approach by the Committee, and which it supported, namely that the convictions must be treated as sound, was that the Privy Council and the sentencing court did not reopen the convictions. This is because the Privy Council did not have the jurisdiction to do so and the sentencing court was only concerned with sentencing pursuant to the direction of the Privy Council”.

Justice Charles placed particular emphasis on the fact that Strachan’s recorded convictions, which occurred over 30 years ago, were obtained under exceptional cir-cumstances, and the SRA ought to have taken those exceptional circumstances into account before denying Strachan the opportunity to write the LPC in the English jurisdiction.

The learned judge noted, among other things, that the trial of the Grenada 17, of which Strachan was one of the prominent accused persons, was unfair and “fatally flawed and in gross violation of international standards of fairness”, as clearly recorded in the 2003 Amnesty International Report; that the Court in which the trial of the Grenada 17 was conducted was unconstitutional, being a court of necessity, as clearly recorded in the Judgement of the Privy Council; that the main prosecution witness Cletus St. Paul, who is presently a Security Co-ordinator to Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, whose evidence convicted Strachan and nine other members of the Grenada 17, gave five conflicting statements to the police, Magistrate’s Court and the trial court, as clearly expressed by JOF Haynes, the late former President of the Grenada Court of Appeal, and recorded in the Amnesty International Report.

Thus, in Paragraph 59 of his judgement, Justice Charles was particularly forthright. He summarised the factual position vis-à-vis the trial and convictions of the Grenada 17 in this manner: “The fundamental error made by the Committee and the SRA is a failure to appreciate and take into account that the political background to the convictions and the manner in which they were obtained is an integral part of the circumstances that make this case exceptional... Factors within those circumstances are: political tensions; the allegations of torture of Defendants; the court was unconstitutional; the jury was chosen by a person who had acted for the prosecution; the jury behaved in ways that demonstrated bias
or a severe risk of bias (and the allegations on which this is based came from apparently reliable sources); the Defence Counsel withdrew on the basis set out in the Amnesty International Report; there is strong evidence that the key prosecution witness gave conflicting statements that were kept from the court and Defendants; the view of the former US Attorney General who observed the trial was as set out in the passage I have cited from the Amnesty Interna-tional Report.”

In his concluding remarks, Justice Charles made the following telling and instructive comment: “I am sorry to have to record that in my view the approach taken by SRA through its decision-making process lacked humanity, having regard to the factual history put before them...”

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