Secret witness appeal fails

| 16/08/2010

(CNS): The crown’s attempt to reinstate an anonymous witness order in a murder trial has failed following a ruling on Friday by the Court of Appeal. The crown had appealed against the removal of the order in Summary Court for a witness in the case against three men who are accused of murdering 25-year-old Alrick Peddie in West Bay in March of this year. However the appeal court judges said that such an order would prevent the three defendants having a fair trial. This is the first attempt at using the controversial law which, it was hoped, would protect the identities of witnesses in trials where it is believed their lives could be in danger.

After a hearing before the appeal court, both in public and behind closed doors, which lasted two days, the crown failed to persuade the appeal court judges that the witness should be allowed to testify against the defendants in the trial anonymously. Although the appeal judges have not yet offered the details of their reasoning for their decision, chair of the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal, Sir Jon Chadwick, said it would undermine the accused men’s rights to a fair trial.  

This is the first case since the law was passed in the Legislative Assembly in March (a few weeks before Alrick Peddie was gunned down in broad day light in West Bay) that police have attempted to bring a case with anonymous witnesses in a murder trial. The bill was rushed through the assembly as a result of the spike in gang related shootings and in the face of police difficulties in getting witnesses to come forward and testify in serious criminal cases.
 
Police have said that there are a number of outstanding shootings that they could prosecute if they could protect the identity of witnesses, especially in gang related cases. However, the first attempt by authorities to use the law was immediately challenged by the defence attorneys.
 
The three men accused of killing Peddie — Robert Aaron Crawford, aged 17; Jose Sanchez, aged 23; and Roger Deward Bush, aged 35 — were arrested in April and shortly afterwards the crown asked for the anonymous witness order.
 
Since then the lawyers have been locked in battle over the use of the controversial law as no regulations have been drawn up to govern how the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill 2010 will be used. Attorneys for the three defendants argued that the law in this case was already being used inappropriately.
 
When Attorney General Samuel Bulgin brought the bill to the Legislative Assembly, he said the law did protect the rights of the accused as well as the anonymity of witnesses. He had said it should only be used in cases of genuine fear and that there would be safeguards in the law to ensure the accuracy and credibility of witness testimony and that the rights of the accused to confront their accuser would not be undermined.
 
The law states that consideration must be given to the general right of a defendant in criminal proceedings to know the identity of a witness, as well as the credibility of the witness. At the time of its passage Bulgin said government had received assistance from the Ministry of Justice in the UK and he hoped it had been drafted in a clear and concise form, covering the key areas and protecting the fundamental right to a fair trial.
 
During earlier arguments regarding this case the attorneys had raised concerns that the crown had little, if any, other evidence against their clients and an anonymous witnesses order could only be used against people if the police had other evidence to support the case and a defendant could not be convicted on the testimony of an anonymous witness alone. There were also concerns in this case, during earlier hearings, that the witnesseses could be members of gangs and have other motives to make claims about their clients.
 
Following the decision by the Court of Appeal on Friday, it is now unclear what the next step will be for the if the crown in this case and if intends to continue with the prosecution. The three men are currently remanded in custody at Northward.
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