Mon | Sep 26, 2022

Prisoners devastated by decision to deny them early release – Lawyer

Published:Wednesday | November 10, 2021 | 12:06 AMBarbara Gayle/Contributor

Attorney-at-law Zara Lewis is urging the governor general and members of the local Privy Council to visit the jails and prisons to see the conditions under which prisoners are held.

The call came on Monday following the Privy Council’s rejection of the petitions of three prisoners who were seeking to have the time they had spent in custody deducted from their sentences.

They were relying on the 2017 sentencing guidelines, which came into effect several years after they were sentenced.

The sentencing guidelines stipulate that convicted persons should be given full credit for time spent in remand prior to sentencing.

Petitioners Gilbert French, Mark Nelson, and Earl Reid were asking the governor general to determine if they could benefit from the guidelines.

Lewis, who represented the men in their bid for early release, said on Monday that they were devastated by the decision.

She said if a society is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable, then our leaders would get a failing grade.

Following the men’s petitions in July last year, the governor general referred the matter to the Court of Appeal, which made a ruling in April.

“The general principle is not generally available through the court to persons whose appeals have already been disposed of, or whose period, within which to appeal, has expired. That is a matter for the executive,” the court ruled.

ONLY IN EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES

The appellate court said it was only in exceptional circumstances that the court will reopen a case that has already been decided on appeal, or which time on appeal has expired. It said the instances include the likelihood of substantial injustice to an applicant if the court does not intervene. A change in law, by itself, is not a reason for this court to reopen a case, the court held.

The court referred to documents which the governor general and the Privy Council, in making decisions, might find useful, such as the reports of the Department of Correctional Services on the conduct of the men.

Lewis said she was informed in writing last month that the Privy Council considered the petitions and decided that they were not ones in which the governor general would exercise the prerogative of mercy.

French and Nelson were sentenced to life imprisonment in October 2000 for the 1998 murder of Carl Larmond at Holland Bamboo, St Elizabeth. They were each ordered to serve 25 years before being eligible for parole. They spent two years in custody before a jury convicted them of the fatal shooting. They lost their appeal in 2004.

Reid fatally shot Andrew Stephens on Drew Avenue, Kingston, in November 2002. He was convicted in July 2005 of the murder, sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to serve 30 years before parole. He spent almost three years in custody before his conviction and sentence. Reid’s appeal was dismissed in July 2008.

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