By Aaron Humes
Court of Appeal President, Manuel Sosa has questioned whether comments made by then-President of the Bar Association, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, during the ceremonial opening of the Supreme Court in January, constituted contempt of court.
In remarks made at the close of the first session of the court for 2015 on Friday, Sosa said he hoped that the issue would be considered by the “authorities” – meaning the police and Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal.
But for now he was more concerned with the broader issues of unfairness and irresponsibility occasioned by the comments.
In a spech given at the opening of the SupremeCourt Courtenay commented: “The last session in the court of appeals was historic in its underperformance. For the first time in history there was not a single criminal appeal heard. That is unacceptable!
On the civil side, there were a record low number of civil appeals heard. The association took a decision that we should publish to the public the state of affairs and also decided that it intends to take drastic and dramatic action to have this matter resolved.”
At the time, Attorney General Wilfred Elrington, who conceded that he had little contact with the Court, said he had taken the concerns to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who advises the Governor General on court appointments.
Justice Sosa, who was appointed in 1999 and took over as President in 2013, spent nearly an hour lambasting the remarks, which he called “hostile, scathing…and grossly unfair.”
He said that the court was entitled to an apology from “those responsible for presenting an incomplete picture” of the Court’s work, but that he would not hold his breath waiting for one.
Regarding the criminal appeals traversed in the October-November session, Justice Sosa reported that in three of the cases – those of Winston Dennison, Lloyd Elijio and Leslie Frazer – the appellants appeared unrepresented by legal counsel and expressed interest in trying to find one to take the cases, and so each asked that his case be traversed to the next session of the Court, with no objection from the Crown representative.
The case of Jorge Vidal, appealed by the Crown, was not heard as it appeared that the respondent, accused of murder, had not been served a notice to come to court. The final case was that of Akeem Thurton, appealing an attempted murder conviction, which was asked to be put off as well by his counsel, Bryan Neal. All five cases were disposed of in the current session of the Court.
President Sosa said, “We shall not allow ourselves to be bullied into becoming a kangaroo court, which denies traversals to appellants.” He stated that under these circumstances the court was obligated to stand down the cases until the situation of each appellant changed, that each was satisfied by the court’s handling of the cases, and that each was warned that his trial would proceed as scheduled with or without legal counsel.
As for civil cases, Justice Sosa recalled that in his first term in the Court of Appeal in 1999, just two civil appeals were heard from a total of eight filed, less than the four out of eight heard in the last session. Of the remaining four, two were settled out of court, another could not be heard as the court could not establish quorum and another did not proceed due to absence of a complete record of appeal.
Courtenay declined comment to reporters as he left court on Friday. DPP Vidal has told a local media house that while she found the commentary “unfortunate and unjustified in the circumstances,” she didn’t think them contemptuous, but she indicated that given the unprecedented remarks by the President this morning, a closer look will be taken of the issue.
The Bar Association, now led by Senior Counsel Jacqueline Marshalleck in her second term, is also expected to review the matter, as Justice Sosa said he considered the statement to be the position of the entire Bar rather than Courtenay personally.