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2005-05-21 19:00:10

Bahamas Supreme Court Judge Abuses Legal Process

Justice Hugh Small's decision heightens concerns over corruption in the Bahamas judiciary.

The Court of Appeal has overturned another ruling from a Bahamas Supreme Court Judge. The decision by Justice Hugh Small, who ruled last year that Samuel "Ninety" Knowles could not receive a fair trial in the United States, has been overturned.

Justices Sawyer, Churaman and Ganspatsingh ruled that Justice Small did not have the jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Edward Fitzgerald, QC, had argued that his client, Mr. Knowles, could not receive a fair trial in the United States, where he is wanted for extradition on drug related charges.

Mr. Fitzgerald said that because his client was listed on a White Houses website as one of seven drug kingpins in the Caribbean, he could not receive a fair trial in the US.

Justice Small, whose handling of a landlord/tenant case last year was nothing short of judicial abuse, handed down a ruling in June 2004 that was in Knowles favour.

Last week, the Court of Appeal overturned that decision.

"This was a startling conclusion given the absence of any evidence from the respondent's expert witness, a member of the bar of the State of Georgia, of any publicity in the prospective country of trial, if known at all," said the Appeal Court's judgment.

"The designation's appearance on the website of the White House is of little consequence without evidence of its impact.  The probability that the designation would become known to a pool of potential jurors as the trial approached, sterile as we think it is, may well be countered in the jury selection process to avoid prejudice.

"Nor is it possible that the respondent's right to representation by counsel would be impaired as a consequence of the designation.

"We are not ourselves persuaded that the designation of the respondent as a foreign drug kingpin under American law is a matter which should result in a loss of confidence of the American judicial system."

It is not clear to what extent Justice Small's decision has resulted in a loss of confidence in the Bahamian judicial system, however.

The Appeal Court's judgment went on to note that the intensive and investigating jury selection process in the United States is better than in the Bahamas.

"The jury system is peculiarly designed to protect against prejudice of any kind and should be strongly upheld in our view," the justices ruled.

The judgment concluded: "We have come to the conclusion that this second application for habeas corpus was not based on 'fresh evidence' within the meaning of those words in Section 20 of the Supreme Court Act, and therefore the learned (sic) judge fell into error in making the order he did.

"For reasons given in this judgment, we allowed the appeal and set aside the decision of the learned (sic) judge as having been made without jurisdiction in proceedings, which was clearly an abuse of process."

 
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