As the controversy surrounding Ayers-Caesar rages on, Gaspard objected to the cases being aborted by acting Chief Magistrate Maria Busby Earle-Caddle and restarted from the beginning.
Gaspard’s request for official acknowledgement of Ayers-Caesar’s judicial status came as his stated position was ventilated, for the first time, in the Eighth Magistrates Court yesterday, where 39 of the part-heard cases came up for case managing by Earle-Caddle.
Yesterday’s hearing took place exactly one week after the Judiciary through its Court Protocol and Information Manager Alicia Carter-Fisher, said a consensus was reached during a meeting the day before, to have all 53 matters restarted ‘de novo’ (from the beginning).
It was announced that the acting chief magistrate would preside over indictable matters while all summary cases will be handled by an assigned magistrate.
Gaspard advised Earle-Caddle that it may be prudent for her to invite submissions from attorneys representing numerous accused persons on the question of her jurisdiction to abort the cases and have them transferred or restarted.
He said it was important that the issue of the court’s jurisdiction to do so to be ventilated to give effect for the lawful and proper handling of the cases.
While he did not make direct reference to last week’s meeting - which was convened by Chief Justice Ivor Archie- Gaspard advised that the court’s lawful position could be in conflict with the decision made, “On the urging of outsiders.” “The ice on which this court is skating may not support the court’s weight,” Gaspard said as he also submitted that before he can exercise his constitutional powers as DPP, he needs to be furnished with the ‘unequivocal’ position of the former chief magistrate.
“That is absent and missing,” he said. “The DPP does not know as a fact that the former chief magistrate has resigned.
Under section 90 of the Constitution, the DPP is vested with the conduct of criminal prosecutions and has the power to undertake, institute and discontinue criminal prosecutions. This power also allows the DPP to file voluntary bills of indictment for cases to go straight to a trial list in the High Court. “This court should thread with caution not with any instruction from elsewhere,” Gaspard advised.
DON’T ABORT CASES At yesterday’s sitting, of all 39 cases called, prosecutors from the Office of the DPP objected to Earle-Caddle aborting the matters and having them restarted from the beginning in 38 of them.
In the private complaint against Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, special prosecutor Israel Khan SC, also raised his objections, saying the Chief Justice could not issue instructions arbitrarily, and echoed Gaspard’s submissions that it must first be established that Ayers-Caesar was no longer a magistrate.
He also posited that Ayers-Caesar’s failure to apprise the Judicial and Legal Services Commission of the number of cases she left unresolved could constitute a criminal offence of misbehaviour in public office as she may have had a motive for ‘hiding the information’ to be promoted to the High Court.
Vice president of the Law Association attorney Rajiv Persad, who represents former Public Services Association executive member Nixon Callender, also questioned the status of Ayers-Caesar and objected to Earle-Caddle aborting the matter and having it transferred to another magistrate to be restarted.
Persad, who was at last week’s meeting, has reported that as far as he was aware no decision had been arrived at to have the cases restarted ‘de novo.’ Joining the chorus of objections was attorney Gerald Ramdeen, who appeared for two of the six men who rioted at the courthouse in April which led to Ayers-Caesar’s resignation two weeks after she was appointed as a judge on April 12.
Ramdeen referred to a statement from the Judiciary’s Court Protocol and Information Manager, dated April 27, which said Ayers-Caesar had been restored as chief magistrate.
“Unless we are told otherwise Mrs Ayers-Caesar is the chief magistrate... (now) all I am hearing is that she is not with us. I don’t know what that means,” he said.
“I am concerned about this.
The court is only able to transfer these matters on the precondition that we are told that she is no longer the chief magistrate.
“The court cannot say it has received instructions. That is not satisfactory,” he said.
EARLE-CADDLE AT A LOSS Faced with the unenviable position, acting Chief Magistrate Earle- Caddle had no answer for the DPP or the objecting attorneys.
“I can’t answer that question...I am not in charge of the JLSC,” she said. “I have my instructions to restart the matters,” she added.
As she apologised to each prisoner - with the exception of one of them who after the m?l?e earlier refused to be brought to the courtroom __ Earle-Caddle told them that the magistrate who started the matter was no longer ‘with us’ and it was the law that the cases must be restarted.
She also disclosed that she was informed that Ayers-Caesar had vacated the office of chief magistrate and that she was given the directive on Wednesday that the part-heard matters were to be restarted.
Earle-Caddle did not say from whom she received the directive.
“I am sorry I have tried to assist you. I cannot assist you any further,” she said.
Busby-Caddle also disclosed that no ‘decision’ to restart the cases ‘de novo’ was taken at last week’s meeting. “As far as I am aware no decision was made,” she told attorneys. Earle-Caddle also told each prisoner that unless the DPP chooses to nolle prosequi (decline to prosecute) their cases, she cannot continue the matters as it is the law that they must be restarted from the beginning.
In the interim, the cases were adjourned to several dates in June and July __ depending on individual age, with older cases being given priority __ to await the DPP’s position.
Earle-Caddle has also indicated that transcripts of the cases have been ordered and are expected to be ready soon.
She also assured prisoners that should she be allowed to restart their cases, she intends to have been each completed within a matter of days. Several of the part-heard cases were all but complete with rulings to be made on no-case submissions.
PRISONERS UNHAPPY Despite assurances that their matters, some more than half a decade old, will be given priority and completed in a short period, prisoners who were affected by the shock resignation of Ayers-Caesar were not too happy when they were brought back to court yesterday. There was a riot by a handful of prisoners who had to be forcibly restrained by police and dragged out of the courtroom after they began hurling obscenities and demanded answers. “I never kill nobody,” shouted Nigel Mayers, who is before the court for murder. He and his two co-accused fought with police officers who attempted to subdue them. They also shouted obscenities before being dragged out of the court. The shouting could be heard on the street outside the courthouse.
A decision was taken to return the accused immediately to prison and there was some panic as they were being loaded into prison vans as they continued with their agitation and were violently rocking one of the vans, while still shouting.
Heavily armed police, some with masks on their faces, swarmed outside the courthouse.
A short break had to be taken when the police informed Earle- Caddle that they were having some difficulty with the prisoners at the holding cells. Inside the courtroom, the complement of police officers increased.
“Let us start over as quickly as possible,” a prisoner said. “I know it is not your fault but we suffering in jail,” he told Earle-Caddle.
The group of prisoners who caused a riot in April which led to Ayers-Caesar’s resignation __ Chicki Portello, Anton Cambridge, Kareem Gomez, Levi Joseph and Israel ‘Arnold” Lara, who are charged for the murder of Russell Antoine in 2010 __ caused no disruption yesterday but were vocal in their protests.
“How long we have to wait again? We suffering. It hard. We fed up!” they charged. Another prisoner, Jonathon Phillip who got down on bended knees to plead with Earle-Caddle, said he counted the days he has been in prison since he was charged for murder.
“I in here eight years, three months and 14 days. My son was two when I come in, now he is ten. My family hurting for me.
This place only playing with me.
So I guilty till I am proven innocent? I am fed up! Send me home to my family. I eh kill nobody. Do something please,” he pleaded.
Other prisoners asked whether the authorities needed someone to “shoot dey way” out of prison before something is done.