Justice denied is as unlawful as murder!

How many times have we heard it said, especially by lawyers: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Perhaps more important, how in tune with our Constitution is our justice system when it comes to our right to a speedy trial before a jury of our peers? In 2012, the UN Refugee Agency had this to say about the Saint Lucia’s state of affairs when it comes to persons incarcerated in Saint Lucia: “Prolonged pretrial detention continues to be a problem; 124 of the prisoners at Bordelais Correctional Facility were awaiting trial.

Those charged with serious crimes spent an estimated six months to five years in pretrial detention.” Similar concerns were expressed by the US State Department: “Approximately 270 of the prisoners at BCF were on remand awaiting trial.” The State Department had also highlighted the case of Eugene St Romain, who had been detained but never tried since April 2004 in the murder/rape of Verlinda Joseph. Last year, for the first time, he was offered bail following non-stop agitation by local human rights activists. The accused has been unable to make bail, however, and remains incarcerated while awaiting a trial date. In 2010, Shawn Phillip was tried for murder after being held in custodial remand for close to seven years. The trial ended in acquittal based upon the recantation of evidence by the original prosecution witnesses.

Clearly our legal system shows little respect for the right to a “speedy trial” constitutionally guaranteed in Saint Lucia. The reality is that this maxim speaks to the legal redress afforded a party that has suffered injury. Not only do the lengthy delays deny the alleged perpetrators their right to a speedy and fair trial, the victim’s relatives are also denied closure. For years, such individuals, particularly when heinous crimes have been committed against their loved ones, languish on the concrete at Constitution Park, daily losing faith in the system, some even imagining conspiracies at their expense. On February 14, 2009 Dwayne James was reportedly murdered in the Marchand area. Four years later his mother continues to grieve.

While she has accepted the fact that no one can give her back her son, she cannot move on with her life. Like many others in her position, she has no idea how her son met his untimely death. Every day she prays for the justice constitutionally guaranteed her son and his family. Twice this week the man accused of murdering Dwayne James appeared in the court of Justice Francis Cumberbatch. Jonathan “Ninja Dan” St. Rose, along with co-defendants Lyden Blasse and Marvin Terry Nelson, have been held on remand without bail for the four years. They appeared in court on Thursday, the pretrial procedure having been adjourned the day before due to the absence of a court clerk. But again Thursday’s pre-trial conferencing was adjourned to Monday March 11, 2013. This is the fourth time this year that the Ninja Dan matter has been adjourned. If you take into account the adjournments since 2009 the number adds up to nine.

When it was first taken before the courts Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Robert Innocent told the media the matter was “based on evidence we have right now, and there is still more evidence which will most likely come in later.” He said the case was still being investigated, “and more evidence can come in the game.” The state, reporters were told, had a signed deposition by a witness and had to file an indictment within 180 days. The STAR has since learned that two statements were signed by the prosecution’s lone witness, which they are clinging to as key evidence in the case.

Two of the defense’s lawyers had to be replaced following their assumption of office as government ministers. But just where is this lone prosecution witness? Who is he or she? His name is Marvin Philgence, considered the state’s “star witness.” However, having given his statements to the police in 2009 Philgence seems to have disappeared into thin air.

The office of the DPP, we have been reliably informed, has been working closely with the local immigration and police departments in a concerted effort to locate their star witness, to no avail. Several notices have also gone to the media from the police press relations on behalf of the DPP in recent times, continuing again this week.

The latest reads: “The Royal St Lucia Police Force is seeking the assistance of the public in locating 26-year-old Marvin Fermin Philgence whose last known address was Sans Soucis, Castries. Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of the subject is asked to contact the Criminal Investigations Department.” Philgence is also being asked to contact the nearest police station. We’ve also been reliably informed that a year ago the RSLPF, with the assistance of Interpol, tracked Philgence to Puerto Rico. Since then, nothing. With the pre-trial set for Monday, March 11, 2013 the family of Dwayne James is once again leaning on the justice system for a conclusion.

St Rose, Blasse and Nelson wait yet another day to know their fate; their families too. For the sake of all concerned, here’s hoping the Director of Public Prosecution also believes that justice delayed is justice denied. Even worse would be the further incarceration of the accused when the DPP’s office is in no position to prosecute them according to the Constitution!

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