Understanding the Law
November 10, 2006

Good Character Principles 2

Last week we looked at how the good character principles were established by the Privy Council and used by the lower court. This week we continue to look at its usage in some decided cases. You would have noted that there are in law most often exceptions to the rule. According to the law good character must be distinctly raised by the defence for the judge to give directions pertaining to it to the jury but there are some slightly different circumstances in which it may be given.{{more}}

In the Trinidad Case, of Teeluck and John v the State, Counsel for the Defence raised the ground of good character at the appeal stage and eventually withdrew it for both appellants. The Law Lords felt that it was incompetence on the part of Counsel not to have raised it for John the second defendant. It was, however, explained that the Lords would not ordinarily entertain allegations of incompetence or ineptitude on the part of counsel as a ground of appeal but will only do so when it is important to the case. In the case of John who had no criminal record and whose credibility came into question because of alleged confessions it should have been used. The Lords could not be certain how the jury would have decided if the directions were given.

Good character in the Lovelace case

In the SVG Case, Lovelace did not have a criminal record, he maintained his innocence but Counsel for Defense did not raise it. At the end of the summation as is the practice the presiding judge asked counsel whether there was anything else that they needed her to address to the jury. The prosecutor enquired whether he should address the issue of good character based on the principles established in the case of Harry Wilson v The Queen (2003). (This is a case where the appellant strenuously maintained his innocence throughout the trial.) The learned trial judge opined that it was necessary for the evidence to be led in order for good character directions to be given. The evidence was not led by the defence and the judge asked the opinion of Counsel for the defence who replied that he would rather say nothing at all except in another forum. The Court of Appeal held that it was unfortunate that “Counsel deliberately withheld his assistance from the court when he had a duty to assist the Court unreservedly”

Maintenance of innocence

The result was that the judge did not give the directions to the jury. The issue came up before the Court of Appeal and a retrial was ordered. The judges felt that the same circumstances existed as that in Harry Wilson. Issues of credibility arose in the face of the appellant’s maintenance of innocence.

Counsel’s misbehavior

In its determination the Court of Appeal referred to the case of Mantoor Ramdhanie and Others v the State (2005) UKPC. In that case Lord Mance pronounced that there are “some circumstances in which the failure of defence counsel to discharge a duty such as the duty to raise the issue of good character, which lies on counsel…can lead to the conclusion that the conviction is unsafe and that there was a miscarriage of justice.”

The Lords maintained emphatically that it was not concerned so much with rating the misbehavior of counsel on a scale but that its emphasis was more on the resulting impact that the errors could cause in the trial.

• Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

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