By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE extradition of five men to the United States to face drug trafficking charges on an invalid indictment after a decade-long delay “would be unjust and oppressive”, a lawyer argued in the Supreme Court yesterday.
Damian Gomez, QC, one of five lawyers on record for Austin Knowles, Nathaniel Knowles, Edison Watson, Ian Bethel and Shawn Saunders in a habeas corpus application, made the remark during his submissions to Senior Justice Stephen Isaacs seeking to have an approved committal order thrown out.
Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Marcus Bethel granted the go-ahead for the extradition proceedings to commence against the men in February 2003.
Then magistrate Carolita Bethell approved the extradition request in 2004 and committed the men to prison to await extradition. However, they applied for and were granted bail in 2005.
Their habeas corpus application, which was stalled for more than a decade, was launched on a number of grounds including: it would be unjust and oppressive to extradite the applicants after the case remained dormant for so long and that said proceedings were invalid due to breach of the provisions of the Extradition Act.
Mr Gomez yesterday noted that included in the large bundle of documents submitted to the court, was the affidavit of Assistant US District Attorney Karen Atkinson, dated January 29, 2003, that was “certified” by Lystra Blake.
“Blake does not fall within the categories of persons in Section 14 (3) of the Extradition Act to do certifications,” Mr Gomez said, noting that certification rights are reserved for judges, magistrates and officers of the court.
“All this says is that Ms Blake is associate director of the Office of International Affairs within the US Department of Justice which is not even in the criminal division.”
“And is not a court,” Senior Justice Isaacs noted in acknowledgement of the argument.
“So at the outset, it’s not a certification,” Mr Gomez said.
The judge asked if he was then suggesting that the alleged evidence against the accused, achieved from wire tapping efforts, would not be admissible.
Mr Gomez said this was the case and that the UK appeal court decision of US v Bow Street Magistrate’s Court and Lemieux v the Governor of Belmarsh Prison addresses the very issue.
He added that even if the court accepts that the certification was valid, none of the attached exhibits, which were in affidavit forms themselves and to be relied upon to establish a sufficient case for the extradition, were certified by Blake.
On the issue of the delay in the proceedings, Mr Gomez stressed that there were previous attempts to begin the habeas corpus application before now retired Justice Jeanne Thompson and then Senior Justice Anita Allen after his clients were admitted to bail.
Mr Gomez said that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in March of 2005, had given interlocutory orders that had yet to be complied with by the state including disclosure of documents requested by his client.
“Did the applicants seek a hearing?” the judge asked.
“They presented themselves and it was stressed to the court that the ordered documents weren’t disclosed,” Mr Gomez said.
He reminded the judge about the importance of adhering to the Constitution and a person’s right to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
Mr Gomez stressed to the judge that more than 11 years of inactivity since the Privy Council ruling is “an unreasonable delay of an exceptional magnitude.”
“Even if they were extradited immediately, they would face further delay to a trial in the United States,” he said.
“It would be unjust and oppressive.”
The matter resumes today in the Supreme Court.
Neil Braithwaite and Viola Barnett appear for the Crown.
Elliot Lockhart, QC, Tai Pinder, Khrishner Higgins and Osman Johnson also represent the five applicants.