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Quick-fire rulings by Appeal Court
This week is set to be the busiest for the year for the Court of Appeal with Chief Justice Ivor Archie and his fellow appellate judges scheduled to deliver 16 outstanding judgments before the court goes on its annual two-week Christmas break on Thursday. The flurry of decisions comes on the heels of widespread criticism of Archie and other judges of the Supreme Court over delays in the delivery of judgments.
On Friday, the judiciary issued a statement in response to the criticism and Archie accepted responsibility for the delays. Archie also set new timelines for the delivery of outstanding judgments in the new year and pledged to intensify the court’s efforts to reverse “the challenging state of affairs.”
Among the judgments that will be delivered this week are those of four death row inmates challenging their murder convictions, including Lester Pitman and Gerard Wilson, who have both been waiting more than three years for the decision in their appeals. The duo’s long-drawn-out judgments, as well as those of fellow convicted murderers Anton Bruce and David Donald, whose judgments have been reserved by the court for slightly shorter periods, will be delivered on Wednesday morning.
In addition, the court is expected to kick off its hectic week with several civil judgments which will be delivered today and the judgment of three men who were sentenced to life in prison after they admitted to murdering a taxi-driver is scheduled to be handed down tomorrow morning.
Checks in the Appeal Court’s registry on Friday showed that not all the judgments that will be delivered this week had been listed. However, the T&T Guardian understands that the lawyers involved in the appeals were contacted directly by the court and informed of the delivery timetable. While the Appeal Court will give a large number of judgments this week, it is yet to set a date for a landmark case on whether the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for drug trafficking can be considered cruel, unusual and arbitrary punishment.
In that appeal, heard in July last year, two convicted drug traffickers-Barry Francis and Roger Hinds asked a special five-member appeal panel to interpret the sentence prescribed under Section 5 (5) of the Dangerous Drugs Act (as amended in 2000). The Criminal Bar Association intervened as an interested party in the appeal, which will affect more than a dozen convicted drug traffickers who are currently awaiting the judgment before they can be sentenced.
Judiciary sources said that ruling is likely to be handed down in the first quarter of 2014.
In 2004, Pitman, 34, of Upper Bushe Street, San Juan and neighbour Daniel Agard were both convicted of the murders of British agriculturalist John Cropper, his mother-in-law Maggie Lee and his sister-in-law Lynette Lithgow-Pearson.
The duo were accused of murdering the family members at Cropper’s Mt Anne Drive, Cascade, home, on a date unknown between December 11 and 12, 2001. They were found bound and gagged with electrical wire and their throats were slit. Cropper’s wife Angela, a former Independent Senator, was not at home at the time. The Appeal Court reserved its decision in Pitman’s case in March 2010.
Of the four convicted murderers, Wilson has been waiting the longest for his judgment, with Archie and two his colleagues reserving their judgment in his appeal since November 2009. In 2006, Wilson was convicted of the murder of 77-year-old pensioner Esther Mae Vidale. During his trial in the San Fernando Assizes, Wilson, now 56, of Marabella, was accused of strangling Vidale during a break in at her Eric Road, Siparia, home, between November 8 and 11, 2001.
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