Convicted cops want Privy Council to rule on

TWO policemen who lost their appeal against their conviction for larceny are seeking leave to go to the United Kingdom-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for a determination as to whether the hearing of their appeal in camera by way of the Zoom platform constitutes a breach of their constitutional rights.

The courts had been hearing certain matters by Zoom, or live streaming, since March when operations were scaled back because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The courts started a limited reopening on Monday.

The policemen — Constable Mark Williams and Corporal Kevin Shirley — who were convicted of larceny of wood, are contending that their constitutional rights were breached because their appeal was not heard in public.

In their affidavit filed yesterday in the Court of Appeal, the policemen argued that the questions are of great general public importance and ought to be submitted to the Privy Council, which is the country’s final court of appeal.

The policemen, who are being represented by attorney-at-law Hugh Wildman, are asking the Privy Council to determine whether the hearing of the appeal in camera by the Zoom platform was a breach of their constitutional rights guaranteed under section 16(3) of The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom.

They are also appealing against their larceny convictions and fines of $250,000 each or three months’ imprisonment which was upheld by the Court of Appeal last week.

On March 29, 2014 the policemen, who were deployed to work with China Harbour Engineering Company, were found on a property in Bog Walk, St Catherine, with pieces of wood in their service vehicle and were subsequently arrested and charged.

They said, in their defence, that they had seen two men cutting down wood on a property which they thought was under the jurisdiction of China Harbour which was constructing the highway.

They ordered the men to put the wood in the service vehicle and the owner of the property came and accused them of being involved in the stealing of the wood.

The policemen said they genuinely believed they had been carrying out their police duties by apprehending the two men.

In the Motion of Appeal filed by Wildman, he said he wants the Privy Council to consider “whether the hearing of the applicants’ appeal against conviction and sentence, which was heard by the Court of Appeal, on the 26th of May 2020, in camera by way of the Zoom platform, constitutes a breach of the separation of powers doctrine which is enshrined in the Jamaican Constitution”.

He also wants the Privy Council to rule on “whether a police officer, who is charged with a criminal offence in the parish court, in circumstances where he has asserted that at the time the offence is alleged to have been committed, [and who] honestly believed that he was executing his duties, pursuant to Section 13 of the Jamaica Constabulary Force Act, is entitled to have that specific defence considered by the presiding judge in considering whether the police officer is guilty of the offence with which he is charged”.

— Arthur Hall

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