Chief justice chastises lawyers for bad practices

Chief justice chastises lawyers for bad practices

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

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KINGSTON, Jamaica – Chief Justice Bryan Sykes this morning flayed lawyers for forcing trials to adjourn prematurely by deliberately absenting themselves when matters begin before the courts, warning that as long as he was the judge in question such practices will not succeed.

The chief justice's warning came after attorney-at-law Everton Bird, one of several defence attorneys participating in the trial of the eight men alleged to be members of the Westmoreland-based King Valley Gang, rose to indicate that he was not prepared to cross examine the star witness in respect of his clients Hopeton Sankey and Copeland Sankey due to his absence for several days from the trial which began last week.

The men are facing multiple charges under anti-gang legislation.

"I'm in a difficult position to start my cross at this time. I had requested the notes of evidence from the time the trial started," Bird told the court, adding that he was told the notes were not yet available.

"That's why you should have been here when the trial started. I observe that there are some attorneys, including senior attorneys, who are of the view that an adjournment can be precipitated by their absence and that by their absence the judge will adjourn the matter to another date. Barring exceptional circumstances, where I am the trial judge the matter will proceed with or without the attorney," Justice Sykes rebuked.

"These men have been in custody for over a year. I am really unsympathetic. I am not moved really in the slightest. The responsibility of counsel is, if you can't be here you are to make provision for your client and that includes the recording of the evidence. Tell me that the canons don't say that where counsel cannot be present he should not make suitable provision for the representation of his client," the Chief Justice said further.

Noting that, "there are multiple attorneys here”, Justice Sykes said the lawyer could have asked other counsel to take notes or even ask another attorney to attend to take notes for him.

"There are solutions that are available to you and you made the decision not to exercise any of the possibilities," Justice Sykes said.

Replied Bird: "I have been reading the notes, I was up all night but I still did not complete. All I am asking the court to do is put me down further on the list for cross examination so I can put a fulsome set of questions to the witness."

"Mr Bird, it is a new day and age. The times of bad practices have come to an end. The idea that an adjournment can be precipitated by the absence of counsel is over," Justice Sykes intoned.

Bird, who then requested to be placed at the bottom of the list for cross examination, said, "At the time of the beginning of the matter I was in a position where I was not able to address the issues". The attorney said he spoke to counsel about assistance but was told they could not assist because they could not devote that length of time.

"I have never been in this position for as long as I have been at the bar. I've always been ship shape and ready to go. All I am asking is that you put me down at the bottom of the list, " he added.

"That is possible," Justice Sykes said in granting the request.

Last Tuesday, at the beginning of the trial, Justice Sykes had rapped Bird for his absence then. The attorney had submitted two medical certificates and a letter of explanation to the court regarding his absence. Justice Sykes, however, was far from placated.

“I regard this as out of order behaviour; there is a letter to the court purportedly signed by Mr Bird containing a medical certificate which says he has a medical condition and is unfit for work. As far as I am concerned, Mr Bird is a seasoned attorney and acquainted with the rules. This is not how it's done. What he ought to have done is, at the very least, speak to one of the attorneys in the matter and sought to have his clients adequately represented. That is the responsibility of counsel,” Justice Sykes said.

“I do not regard this as an application for adjournment, just his inability to attend. This is a special-measure case with [several] defendants represented by multiple attorneys and these persons have been in custody since November 2018,” he noted.

Justice Sykes said Bird had submitted two medical certificates, the first of which said he was unfit for seven days which would have ended on Wednesday, January 15, and another for five days beginning Monday (January 13).

Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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