CCJ rules on the constitutional right to a fair trial

By Roxaine Smith,

Norman Manley Law School

In the CCJ case Frank Gibson v The Attorney General [2010] CCJ 3 (AJ) the CCJ clarified the full meaning of what is a fair trial. The Court decided that a person accused of crime had a right to State-funded assistance of an expert that would serve to help him present his defence in his trial.

The accused, Mr Gibson, was arrested in January 2002 on a charge of murdering a woman. The prosecution alleged that an injury on his arm was a human bite-mark and that the victim was the only person who could have inflicted it. These findings were the only evidence linking Mr Gibson to the murder. Mr Gibson claimed that in order to refute this allegation he had a constitutional right to be provided with adequate “facilities” to conduct his defence and provision of an expert in human bite-marks was such a “facility”. He asked the Court to order the State to provide him with funds adequate to secure the assistance of such an expert.

The Court of Appeal of held that Mr Gibson had no constitutional right to State-funded facilities. Mr Gibson appealed to the CCJ.

The CCJ agreed that Mr Gibson’s right to adequate facilities to conduct his defence did not include the services of an expert funded by the State. The CCJ found, however, that the provision of such an expert was better assessed in the context of his general right to a fair trial.

Caribbean Court of JusticeThe only evidence positively linking him to the crime was of a highly scientific kind.

The prosecution’s case depended solely on the evidence of an expert in human bite-marks.

There could therefore not be a fair trial if Gibson (who pleaded not guilty), through lack of means, were deprived of his own access to the services of a bite-mark expert.

The court also considered that if convicted, Gibson would be sentenced to death. The Court concluded that Mr Gibson “would be severely and unfairly handicapped in conducting a meaningful defence to the allegations made against him”. The Court therefore ruled that the State either discontinue the prosecution or else provide Gibson with funds to allow him to retain an expert in human bite-marks.

This summary is intended to assist the Caribbean public in learning more about the work of the CCJ. It is not a formal document of the Court. The judgment of the Court is the only authoritative document and may be found at http://www.

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