Justice Ramdhani’s judgment breaks new ground in Federation…offers guidelines to police

This pronouncement was made at a press conference by Attorney-at-Law Glenford Hamilton in light of Justice Ramdhani awarding $165,000 and costs to his client, Davis, for wrongful incarceration for a period of eight months and five days.

Justice Ramdhani’s ruling has broken new ground in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. There is a new playing field of sorts in addition to the fact that it vindicates Mr. Davis’ constitutional rights. A whole new ball-field has been created and it is the type that the police ought to follow and adhere to, because he has given certain guidelines which need to be followed,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton noted the Judge found that the police exhibited arbitrary and oppressive conduct toward his client and, accordingly, he granted a declaration that Davis’ constitutional rights were infringed and that his detention for a period of 230 days really violated his rights to personal liberty.

“The Judge considered that the primary question for the court was whether there was any legal basis for Mr. Davis’ detention, and he found that there really was none,” he added.

Reading from Justice Ramdhani’s closing written judgment given on 30th June, 2014, Hamilton stated that the Judge pointed out that some members of the Police Force have been performing their duty in a commendable manner, but there were others whose unprofessional behaviour had upstaged their success.

“The Judge is saying at Paragraph 48: ‘I have no doubt that as the primary law enforcement arm of the Crown, the Royal St. Kitts and Nevis Police Force performs commendably. The officers of the Force have the often thankless and difficult task to police the Federation and prevent crimes in an environment where criminals continue to find new and innovative ways to commit crimes, and the more traditional forms of crimescontinue. I am aware that the Police Force has had many successful investigations and prosecutions. It is to the credit of these officers that many serious crimes are solved, and seasoned and hardened criminals are taken off the streets. Police officers hardly ever get the praise they deserve. Society remembers them more for the few aberrations of a few bad officers or investigations when, either deliberately or through a lack of due diligence or competence, a less than professional result is achieved; on these occasions justice is not served.

‘This was one of those occasions when the investigating officers responsible for this case lost sight of the true role of the law enforcement arm of the Crown, which is to enforce the law and protect the citizens, and not to take them off the street for no good reason and lock them up without a backward glance. It is understandable that in serious matters, the police department is hard-pressed to produce results, but justice is riot served and in fact it is truly harmed when certain police officers act like the ones did in this case. Perhaps it is this recognition of the inexplicable delay in getting the file to the prosecutor, which may have unconsciously caused the Crown not take any objection that the claimant is not entitled to constitutional relief.’”

In recent times, it was reported that police are in the habit of arresting, detaining and releasing people long after the stipulated period for which they should be held in custody, which depicts a lack of a person’s constitutional rights.

To this end, Hamilton said, “What I also know is that the police have been behaving arbitrarily. I would venture to say that much of that arbitrary behaviour is a recent vintage, a very recent vintage. We have had difficult times with crime around here and sometimes difficult times call for difficult measures, but these measures have gone beyond the pale…

“There are great policemen, but many have behaved in ways that suggest that they really couldn’t care about the Constitution. I guess it’s a new culture that has come into the Force, perhaps, where they behave in a certain way and they discount the rights of the individual for nothing. But that is a reality we live with.”

He however noted that “this judgment, if it is to be taken seriously by the police, will cause them to alter their behaviour and how they go about, because you need to have reasonable evidence, information, knowledge of what is before you before you just up and arrest”.

Hamilton cited a number of cases during his 32-plus years as an Attorney in which he successfully represented clients against the Attorney General, and reflected on some of the messages sent to members of the Force by the late Lynch Wade, a former Police Chief turned Magistrate.

“What I also remember is that Lynch Wade would always say to the police: ‘In my time, when I was Chief of Police, you don’t arrest a man, put him on the bench and go off duty. You stay and do the investigation before you go.’ As a result, the police used to come for you in the mornings when they are on the day shift and then did the work. But in times recent and not so recent, what has been happening is that they arrest you on Friday afternoon at four o’clock, leave you and go. They go not only on off duty, but they go for the weekend…when they come back on Monday morning that’s when they seek to deal with you.

“We have known for quite a while that that can’t be fair, that can’t be right, that is unconstitutional! But we have not had adjudicators who demonstrated this level of intestinal fortitude before.”

Since the judgment, nothing has been heard from the Attorney General’s Chambers or the Police Force, and Hamilton is of the view that the authorities would not appeal the decision.

He strongly believes that the Police High Command should publicly address the situation, especially on the statements made by Justice Ramdhani.

“The police should acknowledge the judgment, they should acknowledge that their actions were less than met the benchmark. They should acknowledge all of these things because their primary purpose is to protect and serve…

“An honourable police commissioner would keep a conference based on this and according to the police thoughts on what the situation is. They could take the view: ‘Yes we messed up, we didn’t present the evidence like we should, etc.’ They could take that approach and still feel that is the man who did this. Except that in Mr. Davis’ case, they never had the evidence. The two pieces of evidence that they put before the court, the High Court and the Magistrate Court, were insufficient to go forward…”

On 20th June, 2012, Davis of Willets Housing Project, Kelvon Dickenson of Lovers Lane and Yul Abdula Chacon of Douglas Avenue (all of St. Paul’s Village) were charged with the murder of 17-year-old Jakeel Alford, whose burnt and dismembered remains were discovered within a 180-foot well in the White Gate area on 14th June, 2012.

Davis was first arrested on 8th June, 2012, released, rearrested and charged 12 days later. He was subsequently remanded to Her Majesty’s Prison along with Dickenson and Chacon, where he remained close to eight months.

However, on 4th February, 2013, the three accused appeared at the Sandy Point Magistrate Court for the Preliminary Inquiry and were told that the charges against them were withdrawn.

In passing judgment, Justice Ramdhani said: “In matters such as this where the detention period is not a short one as in a few hours or days, an initial sum should be given for the initial period of detention, and then a fixed sum should be given for each day that the claimant was detained. Such an approach is in recognition of the shock and humiliation, which would have been felt by the claimant initially on being arrested by the police. Thereafter, it is proper that a sum be fixed for every day of detention.

“Having regard to all the relevant factors in this case, this claimant is entitled to at least EC$20,000.00 for the initial act of detention, and a sum of EC$500.00 per day for each day of detention beyond the initial act of detention resulting in a total sum of EC$135,000.00.”

The Judge also cited the case of Fuller (Doris) v Attorney General ‘(1997) .56 WIR 337 Subiah v The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago [20081 UKPC 47.

He noted that in that case the investigating officers fell way short of the mark and that there was no due consideration given to that matter, which seemed to have a deliberate lack of care as to whether rights were respected.

Justice Ramdhani stated that the right to liberty is a valuable one, adding that it is one of the true characteristics of a democratically free society. “Breaches of this nature,” he continued, “have no place in modern law enforcement. Accordingly, this is a suitable case to award an additional sum to vindicate the claimant’s constitutional right. Having regard to the circumstances of the case an appropriate sum is EC$30,000.00.”

With this addition, Davis was awarded EC$165,000.00 and costs are yet to be determined.


 

 

 

 

 

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