Former murder accused Akili Charles has continued to score legal victories despite being murdered almost four months ago.
Delivering a judgment yesterday, five Law Lords of the United Kingdom-based Privy Council upheld a High Court Judge’s decision to award him $275,000 in compensation for his preliminary inquiry having to be restarted due to the controversial short-lived judicial appointment of former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar.
According to the evidence in the case, Charles and his neighbours Chicki Portillo, Kareem Gomez, Levi Joseph, Israel “Arnold” Lara and Anton Cambridge were charged with murdering Russell Antoine on May 13, 2010.
Antoine, 27, was walking along Upper Cemetery Street, Diego Martin, when he was shot several times. Antoine’s friends, Marcus and Joseph Spring, were wounded in the incident and the group was also charged with shooting them with intent to cause them grievous bodily harm.
The preliminary inquiry in the case went on for almost nine years and reached an advanced stage when Ayers-Caesar took up the promotion in April 2017.
The inquiry was put on hold while the Office of the Attorney General and Charles pursued a statutory interpretation lawsuit over what procedure should be adopted in situations where judicial officers leave their office with part-heard cases still pending.
In January 2019, High Court Judge Carol Gobin eventually ruled that such cases had to restart.
Charles and his neighbours’ case was then restarted and completed within four months.
All six men were freed of the charges, as Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle ruled that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain the charge.
Charles then pursued a separate case in which he claimed his constitutional rights to equality before the law and protection of the law were infringed by the restart of the case and the corresponding delay.
In March 2020, Justice Kevin Ramcharan upheld Charles’ case as he ordered $150,000 in compensation, which represents the legal fees Charles incurred for the second preliminary inquiry, and $125,000 in vindicatory damages for the additional time he was forced to spend in harsh remand conditions before he and his co-accused were eventually freed.
In overturning Ramcharan’s judgment last year, the Court of Appeal ruled he was wrong to rule that Charles’ constitutional rights were infringed.
It also ruled that Ramcharan should not have made findings in regard to the Judicial and Legal Service Commission’s (JLSC) handling of the Ayers-Caesar fiasco, as there was no legal or factual basis for doing so based on the case filed by Charles.
In deciding the appeal, Lord Nicholas Hamblen, who wrote the judgment which his four colleagues agreed with, said Charles was not required to identify specific conduct from the JLSC to succeed in his constitutional case.
“The claimant does not have to assert that a specific State body, or that individuals within such a body, are responsible for the breach of his or her constitutional rights. What matters is establishing that the State is so responsible,” Lord Hamblen said.
Turning to whether Justice Ramcharan was right to rule that Charles had a right to protection of the law under Section 4(b) of the Constitution, Lord Hamblen noted that no evidence was presented providing a rational explanation for allowing Ayers-Caesar to take up the appointment with the part-heard cases still pending.
“In all the circumstances, the Board considers that it is justifiable to conclude that the “colossal misstep” was irrational and unreasonable, although the Board would accept that that does not mean that it was arbitrary,” Lord Hamblen said, as he noted it was a fundamentally unfair exercise of power.
He also noted that the serious prejudice suffered by Charles was clear and properly identified by Justice Gobin and Ramcharan.
In determining the case, Lord Hamblen also rejected claims from the State that the fees charged by Charles’ lawyer, Wayne Sturge, for the second preliminary inquiry were unreasonable, as it was completed within months.
“There is nothing unusual about a brief fee being agreed for a hearing which remains the fee payable, whether the hearing goes on long or short,” Lord Hamblen said.
He noted that Sturge had temporarily waived his fees pending the outcome of the case and would now be paid by Charles’ family using the compensation.
The outcome of the case was not the only legal victory claimed by Charles this year.
In late July, the Privy Council upheld his constitutional case over the ability of judges to consider bail for people charged with murder. The case set a major legal precedent, as all people charged with the capital offence were automatically denied bail under the Bail Act for decades.
Charles was shot dead outside his home at Covigne Road, Diego Martin, within days of the judgement in that case.
Charles was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Rowan Pennington-Benton, Adam Riley and Ganesh Saroop.
The Office of the Attorney General was represented by Peter Knox, KC, and Daniel Goldblatt.