Legal blunders could cost public purse dear

| 12/06/2013

_DEW4857-web.jpg(CNS): Local activist Sandra Catron is seeking compensation from the local authorities following a judge’s conclusion that the search and seizure of property during her arrest in connection with insults on social media was unlawful because a justice of the peace had signed the warrant without having any idea what he was signing. However, despite a catalogue of blunders and misinformation, as well as the “flawed” warrant that was thrown out by Justice Alex Henderson in the case against Catron, she is still facing possible criminal proceedings, which may only add to any successful financial claim she could get.

In an inexplicable turn of events, as the crown seems unlikely to be able to secure a conviction given the judge’s findings, Catron will be representing herself in a preliminary enquiry later this month. The crown has made a decision to continue with the criminal proceedings against her, despite having had such a clear indication that the case regarding misuse of an IT network is doomed.

Along with the significant number of procedural errors, Catron has also complained about the way the senior crown counsel from the Attorney General’s Chambers has behaved towards her during the progress of the bizarre case. Catron is not a qualified lawyer as she has been unable to secure articles but she has nevertheless taken on the crown several times already and won over various petty charges. Now she is accused of harassing another person via Facebook and text messages, an accusation which she has denied.

During her arrest last year in connection with the allegations she was subjected to an invasive search of her car, home and office, which included the seizure of significant amounts of personal property. Catron said she was "flabbergasted at the tactics used during the search”, when officers rummaged through envelopes containing insignificant things such as her law school grades.

However, during a judicial review the court heard that the warrant used by officers was signed by a justice of the peace who admitted that he had no idea what he was signing or why, when asked to do so by the officers involved and was shown no evidence to support it.

Following that revelation, the court also heard from the JP that despite being required by law, he did not swear an oath. The judge, shocked by the JP’s admission, declared the searches and the warrant unlawful. Justice Henderson found a number of other faults with the warrant and the process to acquire it and pointed out in court that it was “blindingly obvious” that a warrant application given to a justice of the peace by a police officer must be done under oath. 

Catron is currently considering her compensation claim against the government after thejudge had noted that the blunders could lead to damages but she has been hopeful that the crown would be willing to settle.  With the warrant declared unlawful, Catron was also hoping the crown would drop what she believes is an absurd case against her. However, the crown has confirmed this week that the preliminary enquiry hearing on 25 June will continue, even though the prosecutors had admitted the “fatal defect” regarding the warrant. 

During the judicial review the judge did not blame the justice of the peace but he did point the finger at the attorney general, as Henderson said any real consideration of Catron’s application for the judicial review regarding the search warrants would have seen the case dropped.

Aside from the problems with the warrant, Catron believes the investigation raises many other questions about police procedure and behaviour and the justice system in general.

“I find it appalling that a JP who has no legal training or understanding of basic offences can sign literally thousands of warrants over several decades. Undoubtedly there would have been many more that should have been found unlawful but were simply not challenged by anyone,” she said.

The irony was not lost on Catron that the presiding judge was himself the victim of an unlawful arrest and a questionable warrant in 2009 during the ill-fated Operation Tempura case. Justice Henderson was awarded $1.275 million from the public purse for costs and damages but it seemsthat no lessons were learned.

“No significant changes have been made since then,” Catron said, as she pointed to the continued failure by officers to follow proper procedure with warrants, which she believes should go before the courts. “The courts are there to put a buffer between the citizens of this country and the police but they are failing in this regard. People do not understand that even without a Bill of Rights there are many protections that are afforded under the law and the police have legal rules that they most also adhere to.”

Catron noted that the JP in her case, who was in his mid-eighties, admitted that never, in over two decades, had he ever questioned a warrant or refused to sign one when asked and he continues to sign search warrants for the RCIPS even now.

She said that during the recent judicial hearing it became very clear that the JP had no understanding of the charges, the crime, the warrant or anything, prompting the judge to ask how it was that the JP was signing such important legal documents. However, Catron said she thought it was pretty obvious why the RCIPS utilises JP’s such as this one.

CNS contacted the office of Deputy Governor Franz  about  the situation regarding JPs and  Manderson, who’s office has responsibility, said that on appointment, JP's receive training on the correct procedures for signing search warrants and other documents. The JP Association also provides training for its members, he noted, but made no comment about the revelations in the case. During the trial the JP admitted under oath that he only attended some training session at the beginning of his tenure and there were no mandatory training requirements in place.

Catron said that the entire situation has served to highlight a number of major issues with law enforcement and the system, including the way that she believes the office of the Attorney General has conducted itself. She pointed to their attempts to cancel hearing dates without her consent two weeks before the trial was set to begin.

In another instance Catron was instructed via email to stop “further preparation of the skeleton arguments at this time” as they were considering dropping the case, only to then say they were going ahead on the very eve of the written arguments being due. The activists also said that a judge had already warned the crown at a directions hearing that it should “seriouslyconsider the case” before the JR.

“I was rather surprised at how the entire process was handled,” Catron said. "I did not understand that attorneys could have such little regard for court procedures, court time and a general disregard for the opposing side. I am seriously contemplating a formal complaint to the chief justice laying out all of the facts,” she added.

“This has been an extremely stressful time for me,” Catron told CNS. “In addition I was suspended from my job because of it and still I have nightmares about people bursting into my house after the experience of the invasive police search.” She said eight officers had been involved in the search and arrest for what she described as a ridiculous accusation about insults over ICTA.

“Until you have experienced being handcuffed in your own home and detained, it would be difficult to explain how that feels. I have been grateful to have friends who have been able to counsel me through this.”

However, Catron said this was not just about her pain and suffering but the comments by the JP could bring about a barrage of legal cases against the police and the crown.

“If a justice of the peace can stand up in a court of law and admit that in twenty-two years he has never once refused to sign a search warrant and admitted that he wasn't provided with information or evidence, this could open the flood gates,” Catron warned. “This is a very serious decision by the judge and, given the previous issues relating to Operation Tempura, the public needs an explanation why JPs who have no legal training or even basic understanding of offences are still signing search warrants.”

Catron now has the option available to her to commence a separate lawsuit by way of a Writ of Summons for how the search warrant was executed as that fell outside the scope of the Judicial Review application.

The potential liability for the public purse in this case is not the only example where police warrants and procedure has led to crown cases being thrown out of the courts. The revelations of repeated procedural failures are common occurrences in the local court system. In another case just last week, the case against Dr Frank McField for obstructing police was dismissed at the halfway point when it became apparent that the seizure of property by police from his restaurant was unlawful.

Despite claims by the RCIPS that management would be focusing on improving training so that officers follow correct and lawful police procedure, almost every Grand Court trial is marred by police or legal department failures and errors. In some cases police or prosecution failures have seen defendants accused of very serious and violent crimes, even murder, walk free because of those errors.

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  1. Jacky Boatside from Oldbush says:

    I told you already BOy! Don't mess with the PURPLE DRAGON she going to deal wid you a reckly ya hear! You go girl !!!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wheather it's the Police, DPP, Attorney General, Dep Governor, Governor, Legislators or all the above 'Powers That Be'….they need to get their act together.

    They all have a duty to do so….and are paid hansomely too!

    These continued "errors" (with no real accountability) are costing us all dearly!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree with many others here that Judges only should be signing such warrants!

    I would venture that the majority of our JP's (and clearly many of our Police) have no formal legal qualifications. And so have cost, and will continue to cost, the public purse dearly. Not to mention the reputation of the legal system.

    It's us the people (by way of ever increasing fees – and loss of international reputation) who pay for this, as no one is ever held personally accountable.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps they ought to look at the current training regime in the RCIPS! It really (and sadly) does not surprise me.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do back-ground checks and see how many were common labourers, gardeners and who knows what else, by the stretch of your imagination, use your eyes and believe what you see.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Very worrying that people like Ms Catron and Mr Frank McField are able to take our legal system to the cleaners.

    • Anonymous says:

      People LIKE Ms. Catron and Mr. Frank McField ????

      What the he** does that statement mean ?

      Both of these individuals, like anyone else living in Cayman or elsewhere, have had their ups and downs…like anyone else.

      They are well-known…and in most cases, respected individuals in Cayman's society…they are not in jail as convicted criminals, so….

      What are people like Ms. Catron and Mr. Frank McField like ???

      Black, educated, out-spoken people who are willing to stick up for themselves…who the bullies in Cayman's criminal justice system cannot just walk all over because they simply don't like them ???

      Had these two individuals been white-heritage, moneyed, merchant-class background Caymanians, would you have made the same ignorant statement about them ???

      I truly that these two, Sandra and Frank SUE the living daylights out of the RCIPS and Attorney General's Office…and collect a big payday…just as the law would allow ANYONE else to do.


      • Anonymous says:

        I think the poster means non-lawyers who represented themselves.

      • Anonymous says:

        The white man got his millions, so why can't they???  Get proper law enforcement  (from top to bottom), those who can invesitgate, detemine proper procedure and finally win cases.  The government lost another case again.  Hire prosecutors who know their onions.

    • Anonymous says:

      They are not the only ones! More worrying is how Ms. Catron cannot get articles yet has one (on my count) 3 cases now in Criminal course and several in civil court!

  6. Anonymous says:

    They just have to be more selective in the joice of individuals for J.P.'s

    • Anon says:

      Yes 15:09, and stop appointing clueless Caymanians, like they do to senior posts everywhere.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yeah 19:30. I presume you will also add the commissioner and all the other “top” police from the uk who also have a part in these unlawful searches right? Talk about chopping your nose off to spite your face. Idiot.

  7. Judge Joe Brown says:

    Fire the commissioner of RCIPs, Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions and all RCIPs officers and Crown Counsel that have botched these investigations and trials.

    When lay persons like Dr. frank and Ms. catron are beating the Crown in trials why do these people still have a job?

    The former Premier’s legal team will eat these jokers alive then we will be left paying for all the law suits just like what we did for Henderson, Levers and everybody else who sues the CI Government and wins. Fire them all for incompetence!

  8. Anonymous says:

    A very one sided report.

  9. Anonymous says:

    JP's should not have any sort of criminal law duties. They are not qualified. Change the law.

  10. Just kiiddin says:

    "……the public needs an explanation why JPs who have no legal training or even basic understanding of offences are still signing search warrants.” I think we need an explanantion as to the selection process and why they aren't required to be trained, or have their training refreshed.  Every half-assed politico in this country is a JP, none of which I could ever imagine having even fair-minded judgement on a serious issue placed before them, let alone the degree of wisdom the position expects.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Good for Catron!! I hope she gets every penny that Justice Henderson received as well. I notice a real disparagy when they do Caymanians wrong (Dixon et al) vs. when they do a Canadian wrong.

    We are our own worse enemies!

    • Diogenes says:

      You do understand that the tax payer will pay for any financial award, right?  Not saying she is not entitled to damages, just that you may want to be less enthusiastic about it given that we get to pay for it in terms of increased taxes or reduced services.   

      • Anonymous says:

        Perhaps the RCIPS should have thought about that BEFORE breaching her human rights! I think she should get at least $1M.

        • Anonymous says:

          What about what they did to my son on the Brac! They refused to take him home and dropped him at the exact spot where he was stabbed 5 times in 2013! I am still waiting for justice for this. Want to be my sons rep Sandra? Serious. Lawyers are just full of bull. Plus it seems they are all scared of the police and court system!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I hope people are reading the last paragraph clearly. That itself speaks volume! Make em try arresting people now without facts. And don’t take your eye off the legal department either. They are the ones who sign off to prosecute. So that means they just as guilty of inexperience and overwork like the police department is!

    • Anonymous says:

      Not the "Legal Department" the "Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions", please note that there is a difference…the old "Legal Department" is no more, now AG Chambers deals with Civil Matters and the ODPP which deals with Criminal matters. Prosecutions are the sole responsibility of the ODPP.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Nice photo Sandra! You look like 1.5 million bucks! You go girl. Fight for accountability.

  14. Mike_Hennessy says:

    In the U.S. such failings are often derided by some commentators as "technicalities". Those "technicalities" are what assure due process and are often the difference for the average citizen getting a fair shake and being railroaded. Considering that the Judge has made it clear that there are numerous problems with the case against Sandra, I wonder if it might be necessary to write a new law making prosecutors who commit such abuses personally liable. As it stands in this case, it almost makes you wonder if the Crown Counselors are treating any potential awards as "someone else's (in this case the government's money) as "someone else's" money.


    • Anonymous says:

      My friend is currently being dragged through the "legal" system after police entered his home with no warrant and no just cause. There is a complete disregard and ignorance of the Bill of Rights and Police Law by the RCIPS and the DPP. Fortunately we have some judges who refuse to allow the RCIPS to get away with their ignorance. It's just too bad that it has to get all the way to court without the RCIPS or DPP realizing the errors in process. This is costly and embarassing for Cayman. For a country struggling in this economic time and seeking to attract business, it is not a good message to the world. For those who have NOT YET experienced it, be warned – your rights as a citizen of Cayman are not worth the paper they are printed on.

  15. Anonymous says:

    There is no such thing as a "justice system" anywhere in the world.


    This is only a "legal system". Never, ever expect justice from a legal system.


    What a mess.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Banana republic.

  17. 4 Cayman says:

    Wow and Bains got 4 more years? Dan, Bridget and governor Taylor you have some explanation. Kernohan got fired for worst than this.

    Sad when a country cannot depend on their police force.

    • Anonymous says:

      "Wow and Bains got 4 more years? Dan, Bridget and governor Taylor you have some explanation."   So Wed, 06/12/2013 – 20:09 …  Why didn't you also list your Caymanian Deputy Governor in the line up of those who should have to explain.

  18. Anonymous says:

    It should be a requirement that Search Warrants ate signed by a Judge.

    • Anonymous says:

      I totally agree.  Laws need to be change making it that only Judges can sign a Warrant

    • Anonymous says:

      No, it should be a requirement that JP's do their job!

      • Anonymous says:

        And what if the JPs are obviously not qualified to do their jobs?

        • Anonymous says:

          I think JPs have tooo much power.  I know of one particular JP who only signs documents when he feels like it.  He would turn up his face when he saw people coming and say he was too busy but he wasn't too busy to let a mentally incompetent woman sign her property over to her sons.  Mentally incompetent as in a pychiatrist ruled her as having Alzheimers.

        • Anonymous says:

          Then they should not be JPs

      • Anonymous says:

        Sorry but given they have no legal training or proper understanding of the processes involved, this could be too risky on the public purse due to mistakes such as this.  It should be judges only.

  19. Anonymous says:

    My faith is justice is a little bit restored!  Thier unlawful actions have impacted so many people on this small island and continue to do so.  Continue to stand up for this Ms. Sandra!  The rest of us who civil rights are being violated will soon follow.  Thank you for this first step in giving the hope and courage in a system where I feel so helpless.

  20. Fun Fact says:

    Why is the JP not mentioned in the article? What consequences will the JP face?

    • Anonymous says:

      The judge (once again) held that the JP will not be held personally accountable. Same thing happened in the Henderson case.

      The sole reason for this IMHO is that the judge rocognized that the JPs are being used by the police to get what they want. In Henderson's case the RCIPS outright lied by withholding critical information from the JP in that case.

      They had taken that warrant to the courts 2x and it was turned down. Of course they neglected to tell the JP that and he signed it. I'm sure if he had known that someone with legal training had turned the warrant down he would have NEVER touched it.

      In Catron's case the RCIPS did the same – provided no information at all actually which is even worse. And they purposely use this old man to get warrants signed that no one else in their right mind would.

      I mean, have you EVER heard of ALL search warrants being signed in 22 years without question? Too bad they don't have a success rate like that for convictions! But that should say plenty about why they continue to use his services.

      Now in terms of accountability – what I find fascinating is that the JP continues (after being named as a party to this suit) to sign search warrants – he admitted this in open court during the hearing. Obvisouly he won't stop himself but the governor should stop this from continuing. This is very shameful! He's not qualified to be a JP. Nice man but very simple.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Sandra – please file the complaint with the Chief Justice. There are too many lawyers behaving improperly. Some sanctions are needed so we can once again rely on lawyers to have some level of integrity. Too many seem to have none.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Given all he above and all the other instances in the court during the past few years one has to seriously consider questioning the competance of the DPP ( Soliticor General) and that of the Attorney General.

    Time for a performance review and job evaluation????.

    • Anonymous says:

      The DPP and Solicitor General are two different posts held by two different persons. The SG and the AG have NO role in criminal posecutions and proceedings. The AG was involved in this part of this case because for this aspect the matter was a civil matter, ie an illegal search warrant… the proceedings were by way of Judicial Review which is a civil procedure for a civil remedy. The prosecution aspect of the charges against Ms Catron are criminal and therefore for the DPP to decide on whether to prosecute or not. 

      • SSM345 says:

        09:43, so the SG has no role in criminal matters? That's funny because I am pretty sure she is the one that leads for the prosecution in all the murder trials.

        • Anonymous says:

          You are mixing the posts and people up, the Current DPP USED to be the Solicitor General under the old Constitution, but applied for and was appointed as DPP under the new Constitution when the role of the DPP was established with the sole responsibility for criminal prosecutions. That left the post of Solicitor General vacant, and the current holder of the post was appointed. The SG is responsible to the AG and only deals with civil matters.

  23. Anonymous says:

    SANDRA!  You can do it……don't stop 'til they drop.