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Lack Of Stenographer At Heart Of Appeal

By LAMECH JOHNSON

Tribune Staff Reporter

ljohnson@tribunemedia.net

TWO men are appealing a judge’s ruling that their right to a fair trial would not be in jeopardy without the presence of a stenographer.

While a substantive hearing has not been set before the Court of Appeal, The Tribune confirmed yesterday that the country’s second highest court had received the applications of Stephen Gibson Jr and Sean Lightbourne, a day after Senior Justice Jon Isaacs’ decision.

On April 17, two weeks after the judge heard submissions from Crown counsel and Murrio Ducille on behalf of his clients, he ruled that Mr Ducille had not made out a case for why the stenographers should be returned to the Magistrates Court for the matters. He reasoned that stenographic reporting was neither a trial prerequisite or a statutory requirement for the lower court.

Senior Justice Isaacs further noted that any complaint concerning the removal of certain evidence could be made by way of affidavit and ultimately ruled that no evidence had been laid to support submissions that to remove stenographers from the lower court has the effect of causing prejudice.

Both Lightbourne and Gibson had filed motions to the Supreme Court when their request to have a stenographer present was denied. Lightbourne faces charges of possession of dangerous drugs with intent to supply and possession of a prohibited weapon. Gibson Jr faces possession of an unlicensed firearm and possession of ammunition.

While Lightbourne’s request had been deferred to the Supreme Court for a decision, Gibson’s case continued on despite his request to have a stenographer present.

According to Article 20(1), “If any person is charged with a criminal offence, then unless the charge is withdrawn, the case shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law”.

Article 28 notes that “if any person alleges that any of the provisions of Articles 16 to 27 (inclusive) of this Constitution has been, is being, or is likely to be contravened in relation to him then, without prejudice to any other action with respect to the same matter which is lawfully available, that person may apply to the Supreme Court for redress.”

Mr Ducille had argued that the issue over the stenographers began when Jennifer Leach, a consultant to the Inter-American Development Bank, became the interim manager of the court-reporting unit and made the recommendation that the stenographers be removed from the lower court in favour of digital recording.

He said until digital recording came on stream at the end of the year, magistrates would have to take handwritten notes instead of an independent body recording the proceedings.

Mr Ducille argued that in other jurisdictions, stenographers were being returned to the courts because digital recording did not prove favourable.

In response, Crown counsel David Higgins called Mr Ducille’s application premature based on the fact that there was no evidence of bias or prejudice towards the accused men.

He further argued that the Magistrates Act allows for the magistrate to have the discretion to continue a matter and taking handwritten notes. The lawyer further referred to cases of authority in which a magistrate’s handwritten notes were accepted by the Court of Appeal.

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