A HIGH court judgement handed down last week could very well serve as a lesson to police officers regarding how far their authority extends in respect to the rights of individuals.
The judgement, which came two years after the incident took place, says that Nina Duncan who claims that her constitutional right to be afforded reasonable facilities for private communication with her attorney was breached by police officers who allowed her only a supervised visit with her attorney at the Central Police Station after being arrested on January 7, 2016.
Duncan, adamant that her constitutional right was breached, sought redress under the Constitution of Saint Lucia by way of declarations and damages.
During the trial, the police denied breaching Duncan’s right to private communication and that, in any event, Section 589 of the Criminal Code of Saint Lucia permitted surveillance of attorney-client communications, where necessary.
The issues before Justice Godfrey Smith were whether the circumstances under which Duncan was allowed to communicate with her attorney infringed her right under Section 3(2) of the Constitution of Saint Lucia to reasonable facilities for private communication with her attorney; whether Section 589 of the Criminal Code was inconsistent with Section 3(2) of the Constitution; and whether Duncan was entitled to any damages.
The facts which were not in dispute were as follows as noted by the judge: On 7th January 2016, upon her arrival from the United States at the Hewanorra Airport in Saint Lucia, Duncan was met at the airport by PC Alexander and informed that he had a warrant for her arrest for the offence of stealing by reason of employment. She was first taken to the Major Crimes Unit, arrested, cautioned and informed of her rights in custody. She was not allowed to call her husband because the police said that he was a suspect in the matter of aiding and abetting her. Neither was she allowed to call anyone else. She was then taken to Central Police Station.
When her attorney, Ramon Raveneau, appeared at the police station, he was informed by a police constable that Duncan was not being allowed any visitors, not even her attorney. When Raveneau insisted, the constable called his superior, Corporal Marce, who similarly stated that Ms. Duncan was not allowed to see anyone. Assistant Superintendent Collymore was telephoned and he, too, held the line. Apparently, it was only after Raveneau began demanding names and regimental force numbers, with all the authority he could summon and command, from the officers present that a final call was made and he was allowed what the police termed a supervised visit with Duncan.
What was vigorously disputed was how the supervised visit occurred. Duncan’s complaint was that two police officers stood inside the interview room and one stood in the archway of the open door to the interview room and all three were observing her consultation with her attorney.
The police say that only one police officer stood in the hallway outside the open door to the interview room and no police officer heard any of the conversation between Duncan and her attorney.
Justice Smith said that given the conflicting narratives, it was necessary for the Court to first decide which version it believes before going on to determine whether a constitutional right was breached. The judge, in his judgement, wrote that Duncun’s case comprised the affidavit evidence of Duncan and Raveneau who were both cross-examined. In an affidavit deposed with unsparing detail, Raveneau recounted his struggle to even get to the point of a supervised visit and, during the supervised visit, this is what he said happened.
“He sat with his back to the wall of the interview room while Duncan sat across the table facing him with her back to the open door; standing by the door in the interview room were police officers Marcel, Pierre-Louis and Augustin; the officers were joking among themselves but were within earshot of himself and his client since they were only about four to six feet away; Sergeant Augustin stood in the archway of the door looking into the interview room while Corporal Marcel leaned sideways up against the inner wall intermittently looking in their direction. PC Pierre-Louis stood with her back to them but would also occasionally look in their direction. Under these conditions, he said he was unable to take instructions from his client.”
The case against the police officers represented by the Attorney General comprised the affidavit evidence of six witnesses, namely, police officers Alexander, Jules, Collymore, Marcel, Pierre-Louis and Cherubin — each of whose affidavit was tendered into evidence and each cross-examined.
Justice Smith, in the end, ruled that the presence of police officers in the interview room while Duncan was consulting with her attorney was in breach of her rights under Section 3(2) of the Constitution of St. Lucia.
The judge also ruled that the presence of police officers in the interview room while Duncan was consulting with her attorney was in breach of Section 589 of the Criminal Code. Duncan was further awarded $15,000 as vindicatory damages for the infringement of her right under Section 3(2) of the Constitution. Prescribed costs were awarded in accordance with Part 65(5) of the Civil Procedure Rules.