James Forbes elated, but not surprised; thanks Jamaicans for their supportSaturday, February 27, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Former Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) James Forbes, who yesterday walked from the Appeal Court a free man after it quashed corruption charges against him, said the high court's decision is a victory for Jamaicans, especially those who stood by him over the years in what his attorneys have termed was a “journey through the garden of Gethsemane”.
“I'm elated about the decision. It was not a surprising decision as far as I'm concerned,” Forbes, who prior to his arrest and charge had been recommended for promotion to the rank of assistant commissioner of police, told the Jamaica Observer.
“I just want to thank the people who were my witnesses, Deputy Commissioner of Police Linval Bailey (now retired), Reverend Roy Henry, (broadcaster) Fae Ellington, Lucius Thomas (former police commissioner) who, even though the prosecution called him, he came to speak for me, and I want to thank the people of Jamaica,” he said.
As for the “many prayer warriors”, most of whom he “did not know” but was told had prayed for him, he said “it is their victory as well”.
“I believe in the justice system, the way it is structured, that when one sector fails there are other sectors that will correct that,” added Forbes, who is now chief of corporate security for the ATL/Sandals Group.
He noted, too, the Appeal Court's comment that, based on the circumstances, it was inexplicable how the then Parish Court judge ruled that he had a case to answer.
“I am in total agreement with that part of the judgement,” Forbes said.
Forbes, who was head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF's) Community Safety and Security Branch at the time of his arrest, was in 2014 found guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice and sentenced to pay a fine of $800,000, or serve six months' imprisonment. He paid the fine.
The charge stemmed from a meeting in which he was a participant at his Oxford Road office involving businessman Bruce Bicknell and two police sergeants in April 2012, some days after the policemen, who were conducting spot checks, had stopped Bicknell for speeding.
According to Court records, in the ensuing exchange, Bicknell, who said he was late in taking his daughters to the airport when asked to hand over his motor vehicle documents, said the policeman, “shouldn't bother [to] write the ticket because I can take care of you”. Among the documents handed over were two $1,000 notes. When he was informed of the presence of the two notes, and asked their purpose, Bicknell said, “[I]s okay, officer, you can have them.” Bicknell, who was subsequently informed that he would be charged, was 'apprehended' and ticketed for speeding.
Prosecutors, who called eight witnesses, charged that during the meeting, an agreement was reached to have the case against Bicknell — who had been released on bail — disposed of before it came before the Court. But Forbes, who gave sworn evidence, insisted that no agreement had been brokered at the meeting and that he was not aware, at the time, that Bicknell had been charged.
Bicknell was later freed of the charges.
Portland Western Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz, who was charged for his alleged role in the incident, was also freed. The trial judge, however, ruled that Forbes had a case to answer and later found him guilty of the charge. He appealed later in 2014.
Yesterday, the Court of Appeal, in a written judgement quashing the sentence and conviction, said the sentencing judge had failed to analyse whether the appellant had specifically intended the obvious consequence of his actions. It said, although the meeting resulted in the disposal of the charges against Bicknell, Forbes' mediation or facilitation of the meeting was done in order to assist the officer involved in the incident to correct his mistake and avoid a civil suit.
“The appellant was invited to aid [the sergeant] and not Mr Bicknell. As a consequence, there was no evidence that there was any specific intent by the appellant to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice in the matter against Mr Bicknell,” the Court said. It added that, in its view, “The elements of the offence of attempting to pervert the course of justice had not been proved on the facts in this case.”
The Court said while it would not have been a proper exercise of discretion for the sergeant to decide not to proceed with the case against Bicknell “solely because he was a noted businessman, or in response to pressure or requests from anyone”, “there was no evidence to that effect”. In pointing out that the evidence suggests that the sergeant in question genuinely believed that he was mistaken when he arrived at the conclusion that Bicknell had attempted to bribe him, the Court said it would have been a proper exercise of his discretion not to proceed with the case against Bicknell.
It said Forbes, whose help was solicited to “correct that mistake” and who facilitated and participated in the meeting to afford the sergeant that opportunity, could not have been said to act “in a manner to interfere with [the sergeant's] exercise of discretion”.
The Court, however, said it arrived at that conclusion hesitantly, because the so-called “mediation” or “facilitation” carried out by [Forbes] was not mandated by the Court or any legislative power.
“Indeed, it had never been argued that any such power existed. Additionally, in our view, this mediation or facilitation of that meeting was outside the usual scope of the JCF,” the Court said.
It went on to note that “while it could be said that [Forbes], in conducting the mediation or facilitation of the meeting, may have failed to exercise good judgment”, it could not say his actions resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
“Although, in our view, the appellant's action was misguided, it cannot be said that his conduct had the tendency to and was intended to obstruct, divert, or disrupt the course of justice.”
During the trial, all the prosecution witnesses described Forbes as a man of impeccable integrity and excellent character. They outlined his immeasurable contribution to the JCF and the nation (such as the establishment of Crime Stop), and indicated that those contributions had resulted in him receiving a number of promotions and even a national award. Throughout his 33 years and eight months' service within the JCF at the time, the Court was told that Forbes had received several commendations for outstanding service.
Yesterday the Court, in apologising profusely for the lateness in handing down the judgement, said the $800,000 which Forbes was fined by a magistrate in the St Andrew Parish Court should be refunded to him “forthwith”. It further ordered the judgement and verdict of acquittal entered — which essentially means Forbes' record has been wiped clean.
Lead attorney for Forbes' defence team, Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, QC, in an initial response to the ruling, said while one “cannot unring a bell” and “nothing can undo or eradicate the losses suffered over the nine years that his case has lingered in the court”, the “ruling of the appellate court setting aside and putting in legal context the errors of the lower court that found him guilty is most welcome”.
“It is an occasion for moderate celebration. It has put to an end nine years of uncertainty and anxiety during which key aspects of SSP Forbes' life were put on hold. His disappointment in the result of the trial proceedings which preceded the Court of Appeal's review of his case cannot be expressed in words. On all accounts: From witnesses for the prosecution, witnesses for the defence and the public at large SSP Forbes had served his country well as an officer of the Jamaica Constabulary Force with a stellar and impeccable career destined for the highest office in the police force,” Samuels-Brown said.
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