Understanding the Law
October 26, 2007

The Court of Appeal

On October 15th, the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean States came to our jurisdiction on its third and final visit for the year 2007. It had a seemingly daunting list with over 41 cases down for determination, but by Wednesday, 17th October, the panel had completed the list with only a few matters traversed to the next session in February, 2008. The appeal court justices included the acting Chief Justice Brian Alleyne, Justices Denyse Barrow, Olamay Edwards and Errol Thomas. The Chief Justice presided on the first few matters on the list and his place was taken later by Justice Denyse Barrow.{{more}}

The Court of Appeal provides another level for redress. If in the final outcome a person loses his/her case in the High Court or in the Magistrates’ Court, he/she has a right to appeal. If it is a criminal matter, he/she has a right to appeal against conviction and/or sentence. For certain matters, leave must be obtained in order to appeal. If leave is denied, an application could be made to the higher court for leave to appeal. Leave to appeal is usually required for interlocutory or interim matters that need redress before the final disposition of the matter.

It is not sufficient grounds for an appeal if a party simply disagrees with the verdict or if he believes it to be intrinsically unfair. The appellate court does not deal with the facts of the case as the trial court does, but with legal errors or omissions in the trial court. Legal errors refer to mistakes made during the trial with respect to the law, such as allegedly improper jury instruction in the High Court.

At this level, it is far more difficult for a person without a lawyer to succeed, since the court deals with the law and not facts. This does not mean that every person before the court of appeal has to have a lawyer. It is not unusual for some persons with magisterial matters to appear before the court unrepresented. The court requires an application as well as skeleton argument from both sides before the matter is heard. In making their argument in court, the attorney could refer only to the trial court written record, including affidavits and transcript of the trial court. A case before the court may be dismissed or allowed or a retrial could be ordered.

For this session, magisterial appeal against sentence appeared to have been the most populous. Many of the appellants who were challenging their sentences had been convicted for drug or firearms possession in the Serious Offence Court. On Tuesday morning, when most of the matters came up for hearing, the justices were in no mood to shorten the sentences imposed. Those who expected a discount on their time because they had pleaded guilty were in for a shock as the president of the panel explained that this factor could not be considered when persons were caught red handed.

When the justices consider the offence for the appellant they have the power not only to reduce sentence but to increase it. One appellant who was unrepresented and who had listened to the reasoning of their lordships promptly withdrew his matter when his turn came.

• Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com