Court of law, public opinion & race

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Ruggles Ferguson

By Lincoln DePradine

ST GEORGE’S, Grenada Popular Grenadian attorney Ruggles Ferguson says a recent incident, involving a White family and a Black couple that has led to public protest in the country, holds “very important lessons’’, including the question of due process and the need for public legal education on the distinction between criminal and civil matters.

“Everybody is entitled to due process,’’ said Ruggles Ferguson, who is president of the Organization of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations. “Due process encompasses certain legal entitlements that one, who is arrested and charged with an offence, should experience.’’

The Grenada incident began after Donald Kavanagh and Sarah Hatton, and their two children lost their dog to a driver in Fort Jeudy, an upscale neighbourhood in the capital, St George’s.

Driver Evan Smith hit the dog, killing it. A couple days later, the driver’s wife, Guyana-born Nicole Smith, went public, telling the media that her husband was beaten, detained against his willing by dog’s owners, and that after police arrived on the scene, an officer told her that it was “private’’ matter that she’ll have handle on her own.

Smith’s complaint and the allegation she levelled against the officer led a group of Grenadians into protest at Fort Jeudy.

Both sides in the dispute have retained lawyers.

Kavanagh, originally from Ireland, and British-born Hatton, have been charged with harm. The two, who are scheduled to make their first court appearance on July 28, are being represented by attorney Arley Gill, a former Dominica magistrate.

Derick Sylvester, an attorney for Evan Smith, also has filed a civil lawsuit against Kavanagh and Hatton, seeking monetary compensation for Smith.

Ferguson said one the things the incident highlights is communication and “how police officers communicate, especially when you’re dealing with very sensitive issues, as this obviously is a sensitive issue’’.

He also cautioned against drawing conclusions from public utterances, and on gauging the incident on the basis of race.

“What we have to guard against, is just based on statements made and then we come to conclusions,’’ Ferguson said during a discussion on “The Kellon Bubb Report’’, a weekly online current affairs program.

He admitted that events in the United States, where there are widespread protests with the Black Lives Matter playing a leadership role, “are impacting locally and throughout the region’’.

“Even though the incident involved persons of different skin colour, was it racially motivated? That’s an issue,’’ said Ferguson. “And, if it was racially motivated, then you would understand the issue of protests.’’

Ferguson asked to explain race in the context of a court trial in Grenada, said that “if there is any evidence of race playing a role, it could be introduced in evidence as part of establishing “intent’’ – of committing the offence – and/or as an “aggravating factor’’ in the sentencing exercise; in determining what sentence to impose if the accused is found guilty of the offence’’.

The Grenada legal system, according to Ferguson, is an “adversarial’’ one, in which “every person is entitled to an attorney’’.

“An attorney has a duty to represent individuals and bring forward the best defence,’’ he said. “Everybody, no matter how heinous your crime maybe, you are entitled to due process; you are entitled to representation. So, don’t beat the lawyer; and don’t say that the accused ought not to be entitled to due process.’’

Members of the Royal Grenada Police “might be slow on doing certain things’’, Ferguson said. However, “I do not think it would be fair to characterize the police as being partisan’’, he added.

“People say why the police didn’t arrest these people. Unless there is an incident that is taking place in the face of the police – like two people fighting – the police can arrest and charge. If the police arrive on the scene subsequently, then they must conduct an investigation,’’ said Ferguson.

“Remember, when the police institute a charge, it’s being determined not in the court of public opinion but in a court of law. The onus is on the police to prove the case against the accused and to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. We have to appreciate that.’’

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