PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Wednesday July 26, 2017 – The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has granted freedom to two Barbadian men who were on death row for a 2006 murder.
The Trinidad-base court quashed the convictions of Vincent Edwards and Richard Haynes, who had been in jail since their arrest in 2007, ruling that they could not be upheld because the only evidence presented by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was insufficient.
The only evidence linking the appellants to the murder was oral confessions they allegedly made to police officers in separate interviews at a police station July 19, 2007, almost a year after Alleyne’s shooting death.
Their attorney, Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim, had argued that the evidence was unreliable and, as such, the judge should have dismissed the case against the appellants.
The CCJ considered whether a defendant may be convicted in circumstances where the only evidence against him is a disputed and uncorroborated oral confession allegedly made to investigating police officers whilst the accused was in police custody.
In its judgment, delivered by Justice Winston Anderson, the court acknowledged that prior to the Evidence Act which was passed in 1994, there was case law that supported the position that a man could be convicted of an offence where the sole evidence against him was an alleged oral confession, provided that the jury was warned that such a conviction may be unsafe. But it also highlighted that the purpose of the Evidence Act was “to reform the law relating to evidence in proceedings in courts” and to apply “standards that are more stringent than the common law, [compel] the judiciary to be guided by fresh approaches and [require] the executive to make available to the police new technologies”.
According to the CCJ, the evidence against Edwards and Haynes therefore had to be reliable, especially given that the punishment on the statute books in Barbados for murder was death.
“Based on the spirit of the Evidence Act, alleged confessions made while in police custody could only meet this standard where it was supported by sound or video recordings of or by some other independent evidence linking the accused to the offence. For example, evidence from a witness other than another police officer or some form of forensic evidence (e.g. DNA or fingerprint). In this case, there was no other evidence and as such the judge should have dismissed the case against the appellants,” the court ruled.
Justice Saunders was also of the view that even if the evidence was sufficient, the judge did not properly warn the jury in accordance with the Act.
“It was not sufficient for the judge to merely warn the jury that the confessions may have been fabricated by the police; the judge should have also advised the jury that the appellants found themselves in a vulnerable position as they were in police custody where there was no video or sound recording or some independent person present at the interview who could confirm their account of what actually took place. Additionally, the judge should have told the jury that police officers were generally “practised witnesses” and it was difficult to tell when such a witness was being dishonest,” the court said.
Back in November 2015, the CCJ had rejected an earlier application filed on behalf of the two accused men and ordered that their case be sent back to the Barbados Court of Appeal.
At the time, Edwards and Haynes, who were convicted of murder in June 2013 and sentenced to death, were challenging the unconstitutionality of the mandatory death penalty, but the CCJ had sent the matter back to the Barbados Court of Appeal for a determination of how that issue should be resolved.
In its ruling yesterday, the CCJ again criticized the 1994 suspension of Section 72 of the Evidence Act which makes provision for the use of video and sound recordings whenever an accused wished to make a confession.
Justice Saunders contended that “such an argument is no longer sustainable in this technological era especially in light of the fact that Caribbean states with fewer resources now require police officers to record official interviews with suspects and have been making good use of such technologies”.
While the CCJ allowed the appeals and quashed the convictions, it emphasized that nothing in the judgment was meant to cast a slur on the integrity or propriety of the Royal Barbados Police Force or of the police officers who served in the case. It stressed that there was no evidence that the officers involved acted in any way inconsistent with the high traditions of professionalism and probity.