Newsmaker: Anticipation high re pending Privy Council ruling on Kartel 

This week’s featured overall development as Newsmaker of the Week is the range of reactions to the two-day hearing by the Judicial Committee of the UK Privy Council into the appeal of lawyers representing Vybz Kartel and his three co-convicts, including fellow deejay Shawn Storm.

Anticipation is running high among Jamaicans, especially fans of Kartel, that he will be a free man by summer of this year, the time when some legal observers have said the highly anticipated ruling by the panel of five UK justices is expected to be handed down.

The four appellants – Kartel, real name Adidja Palmer, Shawn ‘Shawn Storm’ Campbell, Kahira Jones, and Andre St John – were all convicted of the murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams on March 13, 2014. They are seeking to have the conviction quashed.

The Jamaican Court of Appeal dismissed their appeal against the convictions, and their cases are now before the Privy Council.

The Privy Council justices – Lord Reed, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Briggs, Lord Burrows, and Lady Simler – are to consider the validity of the telephone evidence that was used to convict the men, and whether it breached their constitutional rights; whether the attempted bribery scenario compromised the trial when the juror in question was allowed to remain on the panel of 11 jurors; and whether the then trial judge, Justice Lennox Campbell (now retired), handled the deliberations relative to the bribery attempt properly.

But, the two-day hearing largely centred around the jury issues, in particular the likely effect that keeping the juror accused and later convicted of attempting to bribe the others could have had on the overall panel.

By Thursday, it was even more evident that the primary concern of all five judges was the jury issues, and legal luminaries have hinted at the strong possibility that the conviction could be overturned and a retrial ordered.

Other attorneys, however, argued that a retrial almost 10 years following the convictions, with the appellants being in custody for about 13 years overall, would be unfair to the appellants.

However, British Kings Counsel Peter Knox, representing the Government of Jamaica and the prosecution, argued that if the convictions of the four men are to be overturned, then a retrial should be ordered.

The questions during the two-day hearing were also centred around whether the jury being sent to retire to decide on their verdict about 20 minutes before the usual end of the court day was too late in the day, and had possibly put pressure on them to reach a verdict.

Knox argued that the trial judge had a discretion to send the jury to retire at any time.

He said the trial judge gave directions to the jury that would have addressed any possible bias on their part, and that juries must be trusted to do their jobs.

Further, Knox said the judge was confident that “none of the 10 jurors had taken a bribe”.

He also reminded the court that the issue of the bribe was revealed 56 days into the 64-day trial, and the judge had to make a critical decision.

The attorney said in the end, the trial judge concluded that the situation would not affect a fair decision being handed down by the jury.

In any case, Knox said the evidence was so strong that the risk of bias was not an issue, and that the verdict was fair.

He argued that if the court disagreed, the case should be sent back to the Jamaican Court of Appeal for them to decide if there should be a retrial.

In response, British King’s Counsel Hugh Southey who represents the appellants, said the trial judge’s directions to the jury on the issue of the bribery were not adequate.

On the retrial issue, Southey argued that a new trial should not be ordered, as the length of time since the first trial would mean a fair trial is no longer possible.

“In our submission, that submission supports our argument that there is no point remitting this… because a fair trial is now very difficult, impossible, we would submit,” Southey argued.

Isat Buchanan, who also represented Kartel at the Privy Council, batted for the convictions to be quashed, saying that a retrial is not possible in the grand scheme of things.

“There is no cure, no proviso, or no thought of a retrial, or a second bite of the apple where the unfair trial right was breached in the manner that it did,” Buchanan submitted.

At the end of the proceedings, both the attorneys representing the Government of Jamaica and the appellants were optimistic about the respective outcomes of the case.

On social media platforms, the perspectives were largely mixed on whether Kartel and his co-accused will be freed.

“I hope they free him (Kartel), not because I am a fan, but just to show how the Jamaican justice system is one-sided. Nuff a uno weh a say him fi dead a prison won’t share the same views for the X6 man(‘s) case,” a man commented on Facebook.

“Boy after watching the case, all I can say freedom is a must for Kartel,” wrote a woman.

A man opined that, “This sounds like an overturning of the charges; too much flaws in the local trial.

“Privy court (Council) judges are usually sympathetic when any aspect of trial was in doubt.

“The issue with the tainted juror was enough to warrant a dismissal of the then juror pool and the selection of new jurors and a new trial. Like Kartel would (will) be a free man soon,” the man wrote.

Commented a woman: “The process is all mere formality. Kartel will remain right behind bars, as the evidence is just too strong against him. Sorry fans!”

Another female Facebook user said there were no concerns being expressed towards the family of Williams, the man who was allegedly killed over firearms which went missing.

“If you follow these people – lawyers included – you’d think that someone wasn’t brutally murdered and no sign of his body was ever found to this day. Cold, cold world we live in,” the woman reasoned.

A man agreed, in part, with some sentiments.

“Murder is murder, and the evidence must have been strong for the jury to arrive at a conviction, so to overturn the ruling is not wise, despite one tainted juror who voted not guilty anyways,” he suggested.

Still, Kartel supporters were strong on social media in expressing confidence of a positive ruling for the entertainer.

“World boss (Kartel) will be a free man soon, soon. Free the boss!” a man commented on Instagram.

“Me feel it deep inna me soul say Kartel a come road. Hold on mi boss, we soon flock you (stage) show dem again,” another man said.