The OECS Court of Appeal was due to meet in St. Lucia on Wednesday to take a decision on an application made by Ewart Layne, one of the convicted killers of late Marxist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop to be allowed to practice law at the local courts.
Lawyers for Layne sent the application to the Court of Appeal Justices following a decision by high court judge, Justice Margaret Price-Findlay to turn down the applicant.
THE NEW TODAY understands that the Keith-Mitchell-led government in St. George’s had initially signaled its intention to join the case before the court and to object to Layne being allowed to practice law in the country.
However, a well-informed member of the government has said that the regime has decided to shy away from the case and to take up a neutral position.
She said the decision to back down came in the face of strong lobbying at the highest possible level of the government by leading figures of the ill-fated 1979-83 Grenada Revolution.
Two prominent persons associated with the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) – former Foreign Affairs Minister Peter David and trade unionist, Chester Humphrey – have decided to support the 16-month old Mitchell government under a scheme known as “Project Grenada”.
David, a former General Secretary of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), has since taken up member of the ruling New National Party (NNP) and is tipped for a possible Cabinet posting.
The once powerful Congress member recently accompanied Prime Minister Mitchell on a tour of North America to meet Grenadians living in the diaspora.
The source said that Government’s position was to oppose the appeal by lawyers for Layne but in recent days has shifted position and indicating that they do not want “to express any opinion on the appeal”.
She feared that the Mitchell administration might be playing a dangerous game with the hardline remnants of the Grenada Revolution aimed at garnering their support to keep Congress out of power forever.
According to the regime member who did not want to be identified, the Grenada left could be “very cunning” and she feared that they might seek to use the NNP to put their people in positions of authority in the country and then undermine Mitchell and his government.
Layne and sixteen former government and military officials were convicted of the October 19, 1983 murder of Bishop and three Cabinet ministers on Fort George amidst a power struggle for control of the New Jewel Movement (NJM) that created the Grenada Revolution.
During the trial, the court heard evidence that Layne was the one who ordered troops to the fort where Bishop had taken refuge after being freed from house arrest at Mt. Wheldale.
The Prosecution contended that the decision to execute Bishop and his colleagues was taken by the Central Committee of the NJM but Layne and the other convicts denied that any such thing happened.
A key witness for the Prosecution was Bishop’s former Chief of Security, Cletus St. Paul, now serving as a Security Co-ordinator within the Mitchell-led government in St. George’s.
St. Paul who was arrested by forces loyal to Layne and former deputy Prime Minister, Bernard Coard and held prisoner at Fort Frederick where the NJM CC members had take haven after Bishop was freed.
The former bodyguard told the court on oath that he heard the CC members deliberating on what to do with Bishop after he was captured and there was a vote in which the majority agreed to execute him.
St. Paul said that after the bloody carnage on Fort George, he spoke with one of the convicted 17 – Cecil Prime – and asked him if they really killed the late Prime Minister.
He spoke of Prime retorting to him that, “we had to cut his f…. throat”.
In rejecting Layne’s application to be admitted to practice law in Grenada, Justice Price-Findlay said that she was being guided by the following:
(a). The point of admission is to select the persons who will handle the law with honesty and with competence, but also not to diminish the role and reputation of the legal profession.
(b). The test which the Court has to apply is whether there is a potential risk to the public or, more importantly, whether there will be damage to the profession’s reputation.
(c) The public must have confidence in the Bar, as admitting an Applicant to practice sends the message that the Applicant is worthy of the public trust.
(d). “Lawyers play a critical role in sustaining the rule of law and thus it is necessary that the legal profession maintain its unique ability to do so by earning the respect and confidence of society.
(e). Had this Applicant committed these acts while a practicing attorney, this Court has no doubt that he would have been disbarred. Disbarment has occurred for less egregious conduct.
(f). To allow this Applicant to be admitted would send an inconsistent message to members of the public and to the profession as a whole.
(g). The reputation of this profession is more important than the fortunes of any individual member.
(h). The Applicant here is a man who has accomplished much. But having reviewed the evidence and taking into account all the relevant considerations, and the authorities in England, the United States, the OECS and other jurisdictions, I am constrained to refuse this application for admission.
Layne had managed to get a wide cross section of local lawyers to join his campaign to get admitted to the local bar.
Among the lawyers who appeared on his behalf were Ruggles Ferguson, Denis Lambert, Claudette Joseph, Cathisha Williams, Ian Sandy, Deborah St. Bernard, Deborah Mitchell, Anyika Johnson, Francis Paul, Derrick Sylvester, Ayanna Nelson, Dr. Lawrence Joseph, Lou-Ann Harford, Peter David, & Ashley Bernadine.
Two other attorneys who signaled their support but were not present in court were Anselm Clouden and former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas.