A High Court Judge has suggested that reforms be implemented to improve the prosecutions of cases by police officers and to reduce the number of cases that are dismissed due to technicalities with police officers’ handling of them.
Justice Frank Seepersad made the suggestion yesterday as he dismissed a malicious prosecution case from Jeneille Richards, a San Fernando resident who sued the State after she was freed of robbing a woman with three friends in 2011. While Seepersad noted that Richards was freed of the charge due to issues with the handling of the case by the officer, who charged her, he noted that issues were due to the officer’s inexperience and not malice.
Seepersad said that the case highlighted the problems that occur when police officers, serving as complainants in court cases, are inexperienced or overburdened.
“It is evident that the current system of police driven prosecutions is not working and radical reform is required so as to ensure that prosecutions are proceeded with dispatch and efficiency,” Seepersad said.
He suggested that teams of trained and experienced officers be assigned to each court district to serve as complainants and attend all court hearings of cases.
“Being based in the court on a daily basis, these complainants would be able to adequately monitor the progress of matters, have the case file ready, liaise with witnesses and investigating officers and ensure their attendance at all trial,” Seepersad said, as he noted that the proposal would allow investigators more time to investigate crimes.
In the lawsuit, Richards claimed that on June 19, 2011, three of her friends came to her home to see her baby. She claimed that she left the child with relatives and walked her friends to a main street to get transport. She claimed that neither she nor her friends had credit on their cellphones and she asked a woman, who was also waiting on transport, to borrow hers to call her relatives to enquire about her baby. Richards said that after she was allowed to make the call, returned the phone, and walked away, she saw her friends attacking the woman. She claimed that she attempted to intervene but left after her friends became more aggressive. She claimed that after returning home one of the friends brought a cellphone, which she left at her home to charge. She was arrested one week later after police found her in possession of the cellphone and the victim identified her as one of her attackers.
Richards was granted bail but spent six months in prison as she could not meet the conditions. The charge was eventually dismissed after the police officer, who charged Richards and her friends, failed to attend her trial.
In his oral judgement, Seepersad stated that despite issues with the handling of the case, he believed the police officer’s version over Richards’.
“This court is disturbed that the Claimant had the temerity to institute this action, notwithstanding, the nature of the evidence upon which the prosecution was premised,” Seepersad said.
He suggested that Richards was fortunate that her case was dismissed due to technical issues as police had reasonable and probable cause to suspect that she was involved in the crime.
“There seems to operate in this Republic an inability to accept responsibility for wrongdoing and an aversion to accountability,” Seepersad said.
“With alarming regularity persons accused of wrongdoing take umbrage with the initiation of criminal proceedings against them and behave as if they have an inherent right not to be held to account for their behaviour,” he added.
As part of his decision in the case, Seepersad ordered Richards to pay $14,000 to the State to cover its legal costs for defending her failed lawsuit.
Richards was represented by Rekha Ramjit, while Nicol Yee Fung represented the State.