ST JOHN’S, Antigua, CMC – The Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal Friday dismissed an application filed by three former government ministers who were seeking to prevent the state from appealing a case in which they were acquitted of corruption, embezzlement and conversion charges in relation to acquisition of three buses in 2008.
The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Anthony Armstrong, had filed the notice of appeal in the case last December, but lawyers for Harold Lovell, Dr. Jacqui Quinn, and Wilmoth Daniel, moved to the Court of Appeal to have the matter struck off.
The Appeal Court heard their arguments earlier this year and on Friday ruled that there is a basis for the appeal. As a result, the matter can now proceed to the appellate court.
In November 2021, the three former ministers were acquitted of the corruption, conversion and embezzlement charges in relation to three Daewoo buses worth over EC$600,000 (one EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) that had been donated to the former United Progressive Party (UPP) administration by the government of South Korea.
They had been accused of converting the buses for their personal use and had them registered at the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board in their names, while they were in public office.
The case was dismissed in 2017 by Magistrate Conliffe Clarke and in 2001, Justice Colin Williams dismissed the case after hearing ‘no case’ submissions from their lawyers at the end of an almost three-week judge-only trial.
However, the DPP argued that Justice Williams erred in law when he dismissed the case against the three.
In the notice of appeal, the DPP cited 12 reasons why “the learned trial judge erred in law”.
The goal is for the Court of Appeal to allow the appeal “in whole or in parts”; grant “permission for the appellant to file further on any other grounds on the receipt of the record of the transcript”; “quash and set aside” the judge’s ruling; or any other orders the court considers appropriate and just.
But former attorney general, Justin Simon QC in his submissions to the Appeal Court had argued on behalf of Daniel, that, according to the law the notice of appeal should have been given before the defendants were discharged and, since the prosecution took two weeks to apply, their appeal should be shot down.
“The law places an obligation on the DPP to early notify the court of his intention to appeal before the court discharges the defendants,” he said, adding that the “right given to the DPP to appeal must be interpreted and applied strictly”.
Attorney Dane Hamilton Snr QC who represents Quinn made similar remarks, adding that “the notice of appeal filed in this matter is seriously flawed”.
Attorney Sherfield Bowen, who represents Lovell, used the same arguments as submitted on behalf of the other two former ministers.
However, the Trinidad-based Senior Counsel, Gilbert Peterson SC, argued saying that the part in the law which states that notice “shall” be given prior to discharging the accused is a directory and not mandatory.
He said it was impossible to give notice because the judge’s dismissal of the trio was “instantaneous”.
“There was no time for intervention by the DPP at that stage,” he said, adding “the split-second obligation…. could not have been the intention of Parliament.