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UK Privy Council overturns murder conviction against Playfair's secretary

Tuesday, October 23, 2012    

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THE United Kingdom-based Privy Council yesterday threw out the conviction and sentence of Annette Livingston — the legal secretary convicted in 2003 of the murder of attorney Shirley Playfair.

However, the 55-year-old Portland woman is not yet in the clear as it is still to be decided by the court whether there should be a new trial.

The law lords, in a stinging verdict, lashed the summing up by the trial judge as having "failed to maintain a fair balance between the appellant and the Crown".

"Collectively, the comments of the trial judge resulted in a summing-up which was weighted against the appellant. The Board is also satisfied that the summing-up introduced issues adverse to the appellant which did not form part of the Crown's case against her, the most serious of which was the suggestion that she had provided the murderers with their getaway vehicle," the lords said.

They gave the Crown 28 days to present arguments as to whether there should be an order for a new trial of Livingston.

Livingston had appealed to the Privy Council, Jamaica's final court of appeal, on the ground that the prosecution had failed to disclose information vital to the defence during the trial.

At the same time, co-accused Ramone Drysdale, was not so lucky as his application to the Privy Council for special leave to appeal his conviction and sentence was turned down.

Sixty-one-year-old taxi driver Ashley Ricketts of Maxfield Avenue was also convicted in April 2003 along with Livingston and Drysdale, three years after Playfair's throat was slashed at her Seymour Avenue office in St Andrew on April 13, 2000.

Livingston and Drysdale's sentences were previously reduced by the Court of Appeal.

At the same time, the court replaced Ricketts' murder conviction with manslaughter and his sentence to 20 years' imprisonment. He was originally sentenced to life with the possibility of release after serving 45 years.

The prosecution led evidence before trial judge Kay Beckford that the three participated in a plan to murder Playfair.

The British law lords found that the judge's summing-up for the jury was interspersed with comments upon the evidence. They argued that that was perfectly appropriate in itself, but it was important that the comments should be impartial and based upon the evidence.

"In the present case, however, some of the comments appear to the Board to have fallen short of that requirement... The judge also introduced issues, in her comments upon the evidence, which had no basis in the evidence. It will suffice to mention the most egregious example. It concerns the appellant's evidence that the deceased had lent her money to buy a car. In that regard, the judge stated:

'She agreed that her employer assisted her to buy a Datsun motor car. You remember what the getaway car was. Her employer helped to buy her a motor car, that's the evidence, that's the evidence, Madam Foreman and members of the jury, that her employer helped her to buy a car and it was put to her, a Datsun motor car and she said 'yes'.'

"It was no part of the Crown case that the taxi driven by Ricketts was the appellant's car, and there was no evidence to support that suggestion. At the conclusion of her directions, the judge was invited by the Crown to correct the suggestion that there was a connection between the taxi and the car owned by the appellant. The judge, however, declined to do so.

"Having read and re-read the transcript of the summing-up, the Board is unable to avoid the conclusion that the directions failed to maintain a fair balance between the appellant and the Crown...

"Contrary to the submission of the respondent, the Board finds it impossible to conclude that if the jury had been properly directed in relation to these matters the appellant was nevertheless bound to have been convicted. It is unnecessary in the circumstances to examine the other matters raised in the grounds of appeal. Those which the Board has discussed are sufficient in themselves to render the appellant's conviction unsafe."

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