Cop loses bid to wipe conviction
Appeal Court says 'there was no appeal'

ONEIL Barrett, a detective constable of police, who was convicted for attempting to pervert the course of justice in 2020, has lost his bid to have his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal, which, on Friday, threw out what it termed a "purported appeal" because of an error-riddled process.

According to court documents, Barrett was convicted before the St Catherine Parish Court on January 6, 2020 and a month later was sentenced to pay a fine of $150,000 or serve three months' imprisonment. The fine was paid on November 30, 2020.

Barrett, after his conviction and sentence, however, filed a notice of appeal on December 17, 2020. That appeal was heard in March 2022. The judges, however, noted that during the preparation of the judgement, it appeared that "there were certain anomalies in the record, as well as in the written submissions that were made on behalf of Barrett and the Crown in respect of the date he was sentenced".

According to the judges, in not being able to determine from the documents whether Barrett had given verbal notice of appeal before filing his written notice, they closely scrutinised the court's file, as the endorsements on the copies of the indictment and the information and the date stamp on the notice of appeal were not very legible.

The judges said they then obtained certified copies of the court sheets on the various days the matter was before the St Catherine Parish Court, as well as an affidavit from the learned judge who presided over the trial where it became "apparent from those documents that Mr Barrett's right of appeal had ceased and determined, so that when we heard the matter, there was no existing appeal before this court".

The judges said having invited the Crown and the attorney for Barrett to make further submissions in November, Barrett's attorney conceded that "there was no appeal."

"The date of Mr Barrett's conviction was January 6, 2020. He was sentenced on March 6, 2020. As confirmed by the records and affidavit evidence of the learned judge, he neither gave verbal notice of appeal nor lodged a written notice of appeal with the clerk of the courts for the parish of St Catherine as specified by section 294(1) of the Judicature (Parish Courts) Act ( JPCA). The notice of appeal was not filed until December 17, 2020, some 11 months after the date of conviction and nine months after the sentence was imposed. Therefore, given the provisions of the JPCA, there is absolutely no doubt that there was no existing or valid appeal at the time we heard the matter on 16 March 2022 because Mr Barrett's right of appeal had ceased and determined when he failed to adhere to the procedure specified, which then triggered the operation of section 295 of the JPCA. As a result, the notice and ground of appeal filed by Mr Barrett must be struck out", the court said Friday.

The Appeal Court judges in a biting observation said, "the outcome of what may aptly be described as this purported appeal demonstrates the necessity for parties [attorneys-at-law and litigants] to familiarise themselves, whenever required, with the relevant provisions of the Judicature (Parish Courts) Act (JPCA) concerning criminal appeals. It also underscores the importance for trial judges (whether of the parish or Supreme Court) to strictly adhere to the relevant law and procedure when exercising their discretion to allow or extend time to pay a fine".

It further noted that the learned judge adopted an "erroneous approach on March 6, 2020 when she imposed a fine and then extended Mr Barrett's bail to return to court to pay the fine". According to the Appeal Court, "several subsequent occurrences compounded this error".

"The blunder", the court said "was further exacerbated when, on 21 December 2020, the fine seemed to have been 're-imposed' [our phrase and for want of a better one], with a notation in the court sheet that it was previously paid".

"Before concluding on this issue, we also thought it was fitting that we should remind trial judges that once a judge imposes sentence, the matter is at an end, and he or she is functus officio [of no further official authority or legal effect]," the Appeal Court judges said.

In the facts outlined to the court by the prosecution at the time, Barrett had been assigned along with another detective corporal to investigate the murder of a recording artist who was killed in November 2016 in St Catherine. During those investigations, they became aware of a potential witness and located and interviewed the individual. According to the cops, the witness had information that would have been crucial to their investigations. However, Barrett testified that the witness was uncooperative and demanded a payment of $30,000 (which the learned judge viewed as a bribe) to give a statement or sign a statement she had given. Barrett after this spoke with several members of the deceased's family, including a sister who resided overseas and had several conversations with her on WhatsApp about the payment of the $30,000 to the witness. The messages which were admitted into evidence showed that he made several attempts to have her send the money to him. Barrett asserted that once he paid the $30,000 to the witness, he would be able to get the statement (or have the witness sign the statement she had given) so that he could question and ultimately charge a suspect who was detained at the time. However, the sibling was advised to do nothing of the sort. Subsequently, she reported the matter to the police.

Following investigations by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency on October 9, 2018, Barrett was arrested and charged with the offence of attempting to pervert the course of justice. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter

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