Understanding the Law
November 3, 2006

Good character principles

After a person is convicted for murder he could appeal to the Court of Appeal if there were irregularities in the conduct of the case. He must have grounds (reasons) for appealing his conviction and sentence. He must include these grounds in his application.

Within recent times there have been appeals before the Court of Appeal and Privy Council on the failure of the High Court judge to give directions to the jury about the good character of the accused.{{more}}

Good character directions

The principles that are to be applied have been settled by several Privy Council decisions. These principles are not just relevant to mitigation in sentencing but in the trial itself. The standard directions are two dimensional. One is the credibility aspect. That is a person of a good character is more likely to be truthful than one of bad character, and the propensity direction, that is, he is less likely to commit a crime especially one of that nature with which he is charged.

Good character principles have been laid down in some outstanding decisions such as Thompson v The Queen in 1998 and in the more recent case of Teeluck v the Queen in 2005 .

Duty of counsel for the Defence

According to these cases when a defendant is of good character, that is, he has no convictions of significance it is the duty of the defence to raise it “distinctly” with direct evidence from him or elicited through cross-examination. If it is raised by the defence the judge has a duty to give directions to the jury in relation to it. The judge’s duty is not discretional, that is, he does not have a choice when it is raised by counsel for the defence. He must apply it as a matter of course. However, if the defence does not raise it there is no duty on the part of the judge to give the directions. Where it is raised the accused/ defendant would stand to benefit when the jury has to believe him especially and in the case of a confession. The appellate judges are inclined to order a retrial because as they claim they cannot be certain if the jury will have convicted the appellant if the directions were given.

Local case

This was one of the grounds raised by the appellant in the St Vincent and the Grenadines case of Rupert Yearwood v the Queen (2002) at the Court of Appeal. Their Lordships decided that he was not entitled to it as it was not raised by the defence and there was some uncertainty about it. Persons in the case had made only slight reference to it. A retrial in the case of Harry Wilson v the Queen was ordered as the appellant had maintained his innocence throughout the case.

Trinidad Case

In the Trinidad case of Teeluck and John v the State, where the appellants were convicted of murder, their Lordships felt that failure on the part of Counsel to raise the issue of good character had such effect on the trial and verdict that it could not be said with sufficient certainty that the conviction was safe for the second appellant, John. There were oral and written confessions attributed to him by the police. He denied these and as a result his credibility became an issue. His good character was not raised because of the incompetence of counsel. A retrial was ordered.