The Keith Mitchell-led government in St. George’s is apparently clearing the way for one of the men convicted for the 1983 execution of Marxist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop to be admitted to the local bar to practice in the law courts.
THE NEW TODAY has reliable information that the ruling New National Party (NNP) government has taken a decision not to contest an appeal filed by Ex-Lieutenant Colonel, Ewart Layne to overturn a high court decision to block his attempt to get admitted to the local bar.
Well-placed government sources confirmed to this newspaper that Acting Attorney-General, Dr. Lawrence Joseph has been in touch with Layne’s lawyers in England to inform them that government will not contest the appeal before the London-based Privy Council.
When contacted Monday for comment, Dr. Joseph admitted that “the Government is not contesting” Layne’s application and remained tight-lipped after other questions were posed to him on the issue.
When asked why the government had taken the position to withdraw from blocking Layne’s admittance case, the Attorney General responded by saying: “Government is not contesting that. It is just the position of the government”.
A well-placed source who spoke on condition that he was not identified told this newspaper that he doubted that Dr. Joseph acted unilaterally on the decision taken and would have cleared it “with the man upstairs” – a pointed reference to Prime Minister Mitchell.
He confirmed that the official correspondence to Layne’s lawyers in England on government’s position was conveyed by the Acting Attorney-General himself who had given support to the move by Layne to get admitted to the bar at the level of the high court.
A senior lawyer who was contacted for comment on the apparent change in the position of the Mitchell-led government on the Layne matter expressed surprise at the turn of events.
He recalled that government had contested the matter at the level of the high court and was victorious since it was able to turn back Layne’s attempt before a local high court judge to get admitted to the local bar.
He wondered what was the motive for the turn of event and the apparent decision taken by the Mitchell-led government not to uphold a high court ruling in favour of the State against Layne’s admittance to be enrolled as an attorney-at-law.
Speculation is rife that the Mitchell-led government might be pandering to the left-leaning elements in its midst such as Foreign Affairs Minister Peter David and trade unionist Chester Humphrey who have been identified as supporters of the Bernard Coard clique that took part in the March 13, 1979 bloody palace coup against Prime Minister Bishop.
According to the lawyer, Dr. Joseph should have recused himself from putting forward the Mitchell-led government position on the Layne matter since he was part of the defence team for the convicted Bishop killer and the question that now arises is one of conflict of interest.
He said: “If that is true that the AG (Dr. Joseph) wrote to the English lawyers representing Layne or communicated with them on the matter in such a manner that is a very serious matter of conflict of interest. Larry should not do that since it is this kind of thing that will make people become more fearful and skeptical of giving support to the Caribbean Court of Justice in the upcoming CCJ referendum.
“The people already have suspicions that the politicians will interfere with the court system and if Dr. Joseph did anything like that then it only serves to heighten peoples’ fears about the independence of the courts and the CCJ itself”, he added.
Dr. Joseph is currently spearheading the efforts of the Mitchell-led government to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ as the island’s final appellate court in a referendum due to be held on November 6.
Layne, who was the man in charge of the daily operations of the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) was convicted of murder following the bloody events in Grenada in October 1983, when Prime Minister Bishop was executed, along with three Cabinet ministers, following a bitter power struggle among moderates and hardliners for control of the New Jewel Movement-led government.
He, along with sixteen former military and political leaders such as ex-deputy prime minister Bernard Coard and General Hudson Austin, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged for the bloody murders on Fort Rupert now back to its original name Fort George.
The death sentences were later downgraded to life in prison by the 1990-95 National Democratic Congress (NDC) government of Sir Nicholas Brathwaite.
During his years in prison, Layne, who was a secondary school teacher prior to the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution staged by the NJM, studied law while confined and passed with honours.
The Ewart Layne application to be admitted to the local bar went before then High Court Judge Madam Justice Margaret Price-Findlay, who ruled against his admittance to serve as a lawyer on December 20, 2013.
Layne appealed the matter in the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, which returned it to the lower court in April 2014.
As a public service, THE NEW TODAY reproduces in parts some of the high points in the judgment of Justice Price-Findlay not to allow the ex-soldier to be granted permission to practice at the local bar:
Mr. Ruggles Ferguson with Mr. Denis Lambert, Ms. Claudette Joseph, Ms. Cathisha Williams, Mr. Ian Sandy, Ms. Deborah St. Bernard, Mrs. Deborah Mitchell, Ms. Anyika Johnson, Mr. Francis Paul, Mr. Derrick Sylvester, Ms. Ayanna Nelson & Dr. Lawrence Joseph, Mr. M. Maduro, Ms. Lou-Ann Harford, Ms. J. McKenzie, Mr. Peter David, & Mr. Ashley Bernadine for Applicant Mr. Anselm Clouden and Mr. Tillman Thomas for Applicant absent Mr. John Carrington, Q.C. Amicus for the Court 2013: December 20 JUDGMENT PRICE FINDLAY, J.:
This is an application brought by way of Fixed Date Claim Form seeking the admission of Joseph Ewart Layne to practice as an Attorney-at- Law in the State of Grenada.
The Applicant holds an LLB degree with Second Class Honours, an LLM with Merit from the University of London, and a degree in Accounting.
While at the Hugh Wooding Law School he obtained a Certificate of Merit and was the most outstanding student at the Law School for the two-year period that he attended that institution. He was also the most outstanding Grenadian student for the corresponding period.
That the Applicant has the educational qualifications for admission to the Bar is not in question. But it does not stop there.
The Legal Profession Act S. 17 states:
“17(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person who makes an application to the Supreme Court and satisfies the Supreme Court that he:
(a) is of good character; and either
(i) holds the qualifications prescribed by law; or
(ii) is a person in respect of when an Order has been made under section 18.
Before any person is admitted as an Attorney-at-law, the Registrar shall enquire whether the person has fulfilled all the conditions for admission laid down by law, and if the Registrar is satisfied that the person has done so, he shall report accordingly to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court may issue directions and conditions as to the manner in which the qualifications for admission to practice law may be proved, and may order any person to furnish such evidence as may be requested, for the purpose of this section or section 18.
Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the Minister, where he considers it necessary or expedient, after consultation with the Chief Justice, may, by Order, provide that a Commonwealth citizen who has been admitted to practice in a Commonwealth country, is eligible to be admitted to practice law in Grenada on such terms and conditions, including but not limited to the duration of the admission, as the Minister may specify in the Order.”
The section clearly envisages that there are two limbs to the admission process:-
(1). The academic and professional education requirement, and
(2). The requirement that the Applicant be of good character.
The legislation confers eligibility but not an entitlement to practice and the Court retains discretion as to whether a person ought to be admitted to practice, notwithstanding that he/she has met the statutory requirements.
I agree with the opinion set out by Amicus Attorney, John Carrington, Q.C. when he stated:
“Like all judicial discretion, the discretion under the Act must be exercised in a manner that is consistent with the interest of justice, that is, by considering and giving proper weight to the relevant matters.”
It is to be noted that acceptance to the Law School does not grant any right or expectation to be admitted to the Bar. The present Applicant has satisfied the other requirements set out in the section.
Therefore, the sole issue by this Court is, is the Applicant of good character? In other words, is he a fit and proper person to be admitted to the Bar?
Good moral character as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary is “a pre-requisite to admission to the practice of law, an absence of proven conduct or acts which have been historically considered as manifestation of moral turpitude.
The Courts will deny an applicant admission to the Bar if the Court believes that said Applicant does not possess the requisite character to be so admitted.
The Court has no rule automatically barring someone who has been convicted of an offence from the practice of law in this jurisdiction, but an applicant with the background of this Applicant must make an extraordinary showing of rehabilitation and present good moral character.
The test of character is a very high test, and has nothing whatsoever to do with punishment, reward or redemption. The test is whether there is a potential risk to the public or, more importantly, whether there will be damage to the reputation of the profession.
The Court is concerned with the maintenance of public confidence in the members of the profession:
* Good character has a subjective element, i.e. that the Applicant is a person of integrity, honesty and reliability. Evidence of past convictions for serious criminal offences are relevant to the proof of this element.
* Good character also has an objective element, namely reputation, but the predominant concern is not the reputation of the applicant but of the profession, i.e. what would be the effect on the collective reputation of and public confidence in the legal profession if the Applicant were admitted to practice.
The nature of the crimes for which an Applicant has been convicted, although they took place almost 30 years ago, are relevant to the determination of both the subjective and objective elements of good character.
The Court is entitled to take into account the gravity of the offences and the part played by the Applicant in the events.
While offences involving dishonesty are generally regarded as most relevant to the test of character, any conviction is relevant. In this regard, it becomes a qualitative issue whether the offence of murder, i.e. deprivation of a person of the rest of his natural life, should be regarded as more, less or equally serious than the deprivation of a person of his material property.
As a refusal to admit is not punitive in nature, it does not amount to double punishment for a crime for which a sentence has been served.
The fact that a conviction took place several decades ago does not mean that it should be disregarded. However, the lapse of time and likelihood of recurrence may be relevant to the determination whether public confidence and the reputation of the profession will be affected by the admission.
(Look for Part II in next week’s issue)