by Alan Scott, Secretary of CHRG, UK
I am writing on behalf of the Committee for Human Rights in Grenada (UK) in response to recent articles in the Grenada press relating to the appeal of one of the Grenada 17, Ewart Layne, against the decision not to allow him to practise as an attorney on the ground that the criminal convictions against him, procured in the Maurice Bishop Murder Trial, made him an unfit person.
It seems to CHRG (UK) that the timing of the articles is designed to put pressure on the court not to grant the appeal, as they contain a number of unsubstantiated accusations. Your readers may not be aware that another member of the Grenada 17, Selwyn Strachan, faced similar accusations when seeking a place on a training course in the UK, and his claim against the Law Society in the High Court of Justice was successful with Mr Justice Charles indicating that the fact that made the case exceptional was the real possibility that assessed by reference to the rule of law the appellants’ convictions were unsafe or unsound.
In reaching this conclusion, Mr Justice Charles relied heavily on the report produced by the human rights organisation Amnesty International on the trial and appeal of the Grenada 17 much of which he described as an accurate account of the events or of relevant evidence from convincing sources. The Amnesty report concludes with the statement that “Those accused of the killings should have been brought before a court and subjected to a fair trial under domestic and international laws and standards. However, the trial of the Grenada 17 manifestly failed to reach such standards. As the trial was unfair, it was inherently unreliable as a mechanism to establish the true facts of events of 19 October 1983, as well as ensuring that justice was done. Amnesty International believes the trial of the Grenada 17 was fatally flawed and did not meet international standards. In line with international human rights, Amnesty International stated that the Grenada 17 could not continue to be incarcerated on the grounds of a conviction that was obtained via a process that was in gross violation of international standards governing the fairness of trials”.
I am setting out below some of the major irregularities in the legal process that led Amnesty International to reach this conclusion:
- Having been arrested and illegally detained by invading forces, the Grenada 17 were held incommunicado on US naval vessels and subjected to lengthy interrogation. During this detention, they were denied access to family and lawyers; this violated both the constitutional law of Grenada and international human rights law.
- Eleven of the Grenada 17 alleged that they were tortured by detaining forces prior to their incarceration at Richmond Hill prison or by foreign police officers after their incarceration, and they all gave confessions implicating themselves under duress. None of the 17 was allowed to have any legal representatives present as they were interrogated, which was a serious breach of their rights under international law. During the trial, it was incumbent on the court, and vital to the interest of justice, for a thorough investigation to be carried out into the allegations of torture before the confessions were introduced as evidence. From its examination of the trial transcript and other documentation, Amnesty International viewed the investigation into the allegations of torture as woefully inadequate.
- The trial was conducted in an unconstitutional court. This was challenged by the 17 at the Court of Appeal who confirmed that the court was indeed unconstitutional, but allowed the trial to continue as it was deemed a court of necessity, even though no such procedure is recognised within either international or Grenadian law and even though a tribunal deemed unconstitutional cannot be considered a lawful court of law.
- The selection of the jury was fraught with irregularities which contravened accepted legal protection under the common law system, including the laws of Grenada. The court removed the jury selected by the long-standing Registrar who was replaced with Denise Campbell who had been a member of the prosecution team. The new jury was picked without any probe for prejudice, and no Defendant or defence counsel was present during the selection. Some jurors made extremely hostile remarks to the defendants, calling them murderers and criminals, yet were not removed from the array of jurors.
- The 17 were not legally represented during the trial as their counsel withdrew, stating that they were prohibited from legitimising in any way a trial by an admittedly unconstitutional court. The Grenada 17 were often barred from participating in the trial because of their admittedly disruptive behaviour, and so for the prosecution presented the bulk of its evidence without the defendants of their legal representatives being present.
- The defendants were denied access to documents that were essential for their defence which had been seized by the US forces. When they applied to the court for the documents to returned, the court declined to act.
- The prosecution’s case rested heavily on the testimony of one witness, Cletus St Paul. The trial judge made this clear to the jury indicating that without his evidence there could have been no convictions. During questioning in preparation for the trial he reportedly gave 5 statements, 3 to the police, 1 to the preliminary enquiry and 1 at the trial. At the trial, he testified that the Central Committee arrived at Fort Frederick just after 11 am and immediately dispatched troops to Fort Rupert with the order that Prime Minister Bishop and others must be liquidated. This would have meant the troops arriving by 11:30 am. Most other eyewitnesses contradicted this testimony by placing the troops arrival at or after 1 pm. Many of these witnesses were not called by the prosecution to testify at the trial, and the defendants were not allowed to call them on their behalf. Even more concerning is the treatment by the Appeal Court into the allegation that St Paul had given widely contradictory evidence in his statements. The initial President of the Court, Justice Haynes, had stated that he intended to call St Paul to appear to answer questions about his testimony, but he sadly died before the hearing took place. The following is a direct quote from the Amnesty report contained in the judgement of Justice Charles in the case brought by Selwyn Strachan: “The issue was raised by defence lawyer Clarence Hughes QC during the May–June 1989 session of the appeal in 1989. Hughes told the court that the defence possessed information that some or all of the three statements given by St Paul to the police were contradictory to both his evidence at the preliminary hearing and the trial. When asked by the judges where this information had come from, Hughes informed the court that the late Justice Haynes has told him personally that he had found St Paul’s evidence too rehearsed and therefore asked to see the police statements. Hughes went on to tell the court that Justice Haynes had told him that when he examined the prior statements the contradictions between them and his trial evidence was so great that he could hardly believer that the statements were from St Paul, and he had therefore decided to call St Paul. Hughes pointed out that where the prosecution knows that a witness has given a prior statement that is very different from his trial evidence, they are under a legal duty to show it to the defence. At the Bishop trial, the defendants were never advised that the prior statements existed. Hughes therefore requested that the statements be produced in the interests of justice. This request was strongly opposed by the prosecution, despite an admission by prosecution lawyer Karl Hudson-Phillips that Haynes had expressed similar sentiments to him, and that he was aware that Justice Haynes has ordered the Supreme Court to subpoena two of the trial witnesses. The next morning the Appeal Court refused the application for St Paul’s prior statements to be examined. President Smith stated that the court has accepted the prosecution’s word (apparently given out of court) that there were no contradictions in the evidence and indicated that the court considered the interests of justice were best served by denying the application. Therefore, the numerous statements of St Paul have never been examined by any court to ascertain whether St Paul has maintained the same version of events throughout his different testimonies.”
In a legitimate judicial process the expectation would be that the irregularities in the trial would be addressed by the Appeal Court, but unfortunately, the subsequent appeal process, like the trial itself, was fraught with irregularities. Amnesty International alleges that many of the documents that would normally be made available to the defendants to assist them with their appeal were not forthcoming from the government, and other documents sent by defence lawyers to the defendants were allegedly confiscated by the prison authorities. Before delivering its verbal opinion, the court negotiated an additional payment of $650,000 from the Government as the written judgement in the case would be long and complicated to produce. Having received payment, the original sentences were confirmed, but no written judgement has ever been produced to explain why the numerous irregularities in the trial did not render the original decisions unsafe. Ramsey Clark, a former US Attorney General was in court to hear the verbal judgement and commented: “the decision was totally political in context and tone. It included no consideration of the facts and law, making the entire proceedings illegal, false in its finding of fact and a corruption of justice”.
It is the view of CHRG (UK) that the contention by Amnesty International is correct, the trial of the Grenada 17 was fatally flawed and a gross violation of international standards on the fairness of trials. It is therefore inherently unreasonable to use the conviction of Ewart Layne from this political show trial to draw a conclusion that he is an unfit person to practice law as an attorney in Grenada.
It is high time that there was a proper review into the appalling injustice of this case. It is deserved by the families of those killed on 19 October, including the soldiers. To facilitate this, we are calling on the Government to ensure that the written judgement paid to the Appeal Court judges by the people of Grenada, at great cost, is made public.
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