The Court of Appeal has upheld an appeal over a judge’s decision to award over $1 million in compensation to two men from Tobago, who claimed that they were maliciously prosecuted for murder over a decade ago.
Delivering an oral judgement at the end of a virtual hearing yesterday, Appellate Judges Gregory Smith, Mira Dean-Armorer and Vasheist Kokaram ruled that former High Court Judge and current Appeal Court Judge James Aboud got it wrong when he upheld Keron Quamina and Malco Kent’s lawsuit in March 2017.
The decision means that the duo, who received their compensation from the State before the appeal came up for hearing, will now have to repay it unless they successfully appeal before the Privy Council. They were also ordered to pay a little over $20,000 in legal costs to the Office of the Attorney General for pursuing the appeal.
According to the evidence in the case, in January 2010, Kent, 39, of Gardenside Street, Scarborough, and Quamina, 35, of Mt St George, were arrested and charged with the murder of businessman Billy Caesar, who was killed two years earlier.
In February 2011, both men were freed after the magistrate presiding over the preliminary inquiry upheld their no-case submissions.
The case against the duo was mainly based on the witness statement of a man identified as Kirk Thomas, who failed to show up during the inquiry.
Aboud criticised Assistant Commissioner of Police William Nurse, who was an Assistant Superintendent (ASP) at the time and played a vital role in allegedly obtaining the statement from Thomas and passing it on to PC Kurt Eastman, who laid the charges.
“Many crucial parts of the statement contain conjecture or are based on sketchy information that a prudent officer of law ought to have considered needful of further investigation,” he said.
In assessing the compensation for the duo, Justice Aboud granted them $325,000 in general and aggravated damages and $25,000 in exemplary damages. Kent, an arts and craft vendor, and Quamina, a soft drink vendor, were awarded $45,000 for their loss of earnings during the time they were on remand before being freed. The State was also initially ordered to pay Kent for the $75,000 in legal fees his family incurred in defending the charge.
In deciding the appeal, Justice Kokaram, who delivered the panel’s unanimous decision, ruled that their colleague was wrong to rule PC Eastman did not have reasonable and probable cause to suspect the duo was involved in Caesar’s murder.
Justice Kokaram ruled the judge wrongly questioned the steps the officer undertook to verify the contents of Thomas’ statement.
“It is not the job of the officer to prove what his informant says is true. He is not there to ensure guilt, as he can only put a proper case before the court to decide,” Justice Kokaram said.
He noted that there was no evidence Eastman fabricated the statement and that it appeared he (Eastman) had a bonafide belief in it being true.
“Launching a weak case does not mean that there was a lack of reasonable and probable cause,” he said.
Justice Kokaram also ruled Justice Aboud was wrong to conclude investigators acted with malice, as he noted that no consideration was given to the fact that they (investigators) sought the advice of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) before charging the duo.
“Sloppy investigative work is not enough to impute malice,” he said.
The duo was represented by Nera Narine, while Ebo Jones represented the AG’s Office.