Grenada trial role raises question of whether Justice Patterson suitable for GECOM Chair – GHRA

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) today said that the role that Justice James Patterson played in the trial of the surviving 17 alleged ring-leaders of the 1983 coup against then Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop raises the question of whether he is a `fit and proper’ person for the role of GECOM Chairman.

A statement from the GHRA follows:


The US invasion of Grenada in 1983 led to a trial of the surviving seventeen alleged ring-leaders – known as the ‘Grenada 17’. The trial was held by a group of attorneys and judges appointed and paid for by the United States, according to a sworn Affidavit of Ramsey Clark, the former US Attorney-General. The manner in which all aspects of the trials was dominated by the US administration generated widespread international condemnation. According to Mr. Clark, the trial was not presided over by any constitutional court or other tribunal of the island of Grenada. Following the trials, all records were removed to the United States and access to them has been extremely difficult ever since.

Justice (rtd) James Patterson

The Affidavit sworn to by Ramsay Clark sought to persuade the Michigan Federal Court to allow access to records retained by the US Army and other US Government Agencies. Mr. Ramsay explained his concerns as grounded in “many disturbing facts about the prosecution, conviction and sentencing of the defendants”.

Mr. Clark’s Affidavit lists some of these ‘disturbing facts’ as:

“In the wake of the invasion the United States army and other government agencies interrogated a number of witnesses and seized virtually all of the documentary evidence. Most of this material was never made available to counsel for the defense….The picking of judges by the occupying power was a very serious violation of commonly accepted notions of due process of law.

…The jury in the case was chosen under the most inflammatory circumstances imaginable, by a person appointed by the prosecution after the illegal removal of the registrar, who was normally charged with this duty. The jury was picked with no effort to probe for prejudice and no defendant or defense counsel present and without cross-examination.

Motions to ensure a proper and fair jury were not heard until the trial court was ordered to do so for the third time nearly three years after the convictions.

During the course of the “trial”, the prosecution presented its evidence without the defendants or defense counsel present and without cross-examination.

During the course of the trial, all but one of the defense counsel fled the country due to reported death threats.

Despite these incredible procedures, from my review of the record, there was no credible evidence that the members of the Central Committee of the New Jewel movement ever ordered or even had the opportunity to order the murders for which they were found guilty.

The 17 defendants barely escaped execution after gallows had been erected, graves dug, burial clothes fitted and a hangman from a neighbouring island had arrived. Only a storm of international protest ranging from Mother Theresa to 50 members of the United States Congress forced the Advisory Committee for the Prerogative of Mercy to grant commutation to these prisoners…..”

Among the judges associated with this infamous period of Caribbean history was Justice James Patterson, the newly appointed Guyana Elections Commissioner. Along with the other judges who participated in this disreputable charade, Justice Patterson found no fault with the serious defilement of commonly accepted notions of due process of law.

Following a visit to Grenada in 1996 a US-based academic, Dr. Richard Gibson, filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for access to a wide range of documents related to the trials.  Despite a range of delaying tactics he succeeded in obtaining a Court order for access to a small number of the documents requested.  To our knowledge, not a single document of the nine-month trial itself has ever been released.

A Travesty Of Justice: The Case Of The Grenada 17” published in 2002 comments on some of the released documents in the following terms:

“                                              CHIEF JUSTICE JAMES PATTERSON

You will see in Folder No.3 at pp. 1369-70 where the US political officer reports on meeting with the Chief Justice of Grenada. Therein the CJ is reported as expressing the expectation that the hangings of the Grenada 17 defendants would take place in 1988. He said that the Commissioner of Police had informed him that 2 gallows are ready. This discussion was taking place as a time when the CJ had a motion pending before him that was capable of nullifying all of the convictions!…”

The Report continues “Folder No.3 is also very interesting in that it reveals the extent to which the US Government was supervising the legal process, down to supervising and exerting clear influence to have the trial record produced. Meetings were held with the Chief Justice and there was regular contact with the secretary of the Chief Justice to get the matter moving. This level of ‘interest’ is truly amazing.”

It should be noted that these conversations were taking place with the foreign power responsible for the capture of all the defendants. This is set out as a matter of judicial record in the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Report No.109/99 (Case No.10.951: Coard et al versus the United States).

The human rights dimensions of this disgraceful episode counted for nothing for the main judicial actors, one of whom is now elevated to one of the most sensitive posts in the political administration of Guyana.

Moreover, national elections in Guyana are the subject of intense interest and require frequent inter-action between the Commissioner, contending parties and the diplomatic community. The extracts from the official documents quoted above encourage the conclusion that when confronted with the interests of a foreign power Justice Patterson could not be relied on to keep his own counsel or maintain the impartiality or discretion required in a Chairman of GECOM.

Within the general context of Justice Patterson’s suitability for the GECOM post and in light of the foregoing an additional question must inevitably arise. Is a person who has never disassociated himself from being at the centre of an episode which tarnished the reputation of the Caribbean judicial community for a generation a ‘fit and proper’ person to be Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission?



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