Lusignan massacre accused can apply for leave to appeal decision ordering new trial – CCJ

Lusignan massacre accused James Anthony Hyles and Mark Royden Williams were on Wednesday granted the opportunity by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to apply for special leave to challenge a Guyana Court of Appeal (GCA) decision ordering a retrial of their case.

In its judgment, the CCJ said that Hyles and Williams must file their submissions on the application for special leave by August 5, 2016. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) here shall file submissions in response by September 2. The applicants shall then file a reply by September 16. The special leave applications will then be heard by video-conference on October 12 at 10 am.

After a High Court trial, Hyles and Williams had been found not guilty in August 2013 of the 11 murders. However, the Chambers of the DPP had appealed that decision with the GCA. On March 8 this year, the Guyana Court of Appeal ordered that Williams and Hyles be retried for the 11 murders committed in January, 2008 as there were some irregularities at the trial and the cumulative effect rendered the not guilty verdicts unsafe and unsatisfactory.

Lawyers for Hyles and Williams then moved to the CCJ to seek special leave to appeal the decision to order a retrial. The DPP was the respondent in the case. Both sides were asked to make written submissions on whether the applicants were entitled to seek special leave to appeal the decision by the Guyana Court of Appeal.

In its judgment, the CCJ noted that the DPP argued that the applicants did not have an appeal to the CCJ as of right under section 33L of the Guyana Court of Appeal Act. The CCJ concurred but said that the right to seek special leave to approach it resides in the CCJ Act. While agreeing that Section 8 of the CCJ Act is inelegant, the judgment said the CCJ has clarified the matter in several cases.

Mark Royden Williams
Mark Royden Williams
James Anthony Hyles
James Anthony Hyles

It added, “The special leave application exists independently of whether the Applicant has or had an appeal as of right or has sought and been refused leave from the Court of Appeal to appeal to the CCJ. Any litigant who is dissatisfied with a decision of the Court of Appeal is entitled to apply directly to this Court for special leave to appeal that decision. We would naturally, however, only grant such leave if the Applicant’s case is a deserving one. In due course that determination will be made in this case, but we do not accede to the argument that the Applicant is somehow disentitled from seeking special leave from this Court.”

The CCJ would now determine whether the applicants’ application for special leave to appeal the GCA decision should be granted.

In relation to Hyles, the CCJ declined an application to consider whether he should be granted bail as there is no appeal pending before the court on the matter. The CCJ also noted that any application for bail in such circumstances should ordinarily be made first to the appropriate lower court.

DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack appeared for her office while Nigel Hughes appeared for Hyles and Roger Yearwood for Williams.

Hyles and Williams were accused of killing 48-year-old Clarence Thomas, his 12-year-old daughter Vanessa Thomas and his son Ron Thomas; 32-year-old Mohandai Gourdat and her two sons, four-year-old Seegobind Harrilall and 10-year-old Seegopaul Harrilall; 22-year-old Shazam Mohamed; 55-year-old Shaleem Baksh; Seecharran Rooplall, 56, his wife Dhanrajie Ramsingh, 52 and their 11-year-old daughter Raywattie Ramsingh, on January 26, 2008, at Track ‘A’ Lusignan. Gunmen had stormed their homes in the wee hours of the morning and began shooting.

Among the grounds for the appeal of the High Court acquittal of the duo was the nondisclosure to the judge by the jury foreman and attorney Hughes, who represented Hyles, that the foreman, Vernon Griffith, was a former client of the lawyer.

After the trial, trial judge Navindra Singh had placed a life ban from jury service on Griffith for his non-disclosure.

The DPP had maintained, after conveying its intention to appeal, that Hughes needed to disclose that he had represented Griffith in a civil case for a period of six years starting in 2002. This non-disclosure, the DPP argued, constituted a “material irregularity.”

The DPP contended that the non-disclosure was “material and significant given the fact that at the commencement of the trial on the 15 July, 2013, before the jury was selected and empanelled, the learned trial judge specifically called out the names of all the attorneys involved in the case and told the entire panel that if they know or are associated with any of the attorneys, they ought to so indicate and would be excused.”

Hughes and Griffith remained silent, it was noted.

Delivering the ruling from the bench and with which the other justices concurred, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards noted that the court found that the foreman had an ethical and legal duty to disclose his relationship with Hughes.

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