Appeal court confirms EC$500,000 award to couple whose sex tape was posted on social media by police

By:Erasmus Williams
Basseterre, St. Kitts, December 10, 2017 – The Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal has confirmed the decision of the High Court in awarding a Nevisian couple a total of EC$500,000 for breach of their constitutional rights to privacy, property and freedom from unlawful search.

The three appeal court judges in its ruling referred to a Dominica case in which photographs of a contestant in a Carnival Queen Pageant was posted on the internet in 2000. The woman was awarded EC$525,000.

“We believe that this (Nevis) case is worst given that it included police officers. We think it was an egregious case,” said appeal court justices Louise Blenman, Gerard Farara QC and Paul Webster in their December 4th 2017 ruling handed down at the end of the hearing at the Lee Llewellyn Moore Judicial and Legal Services Complex.

In March 2016, Nevis’ High Court judge, Justice Lorraine Williams found that the police officers who leaked a sex video of the two had breached their constitutional rights. In the video, which was posted on social media by the police officers, the female’s face was exposed while only the lower body of the male was visible.

The woman whose name will not be disclosed was awarded EC$350,000 while the man, who name is being withheld was awarded EC$150,000.

The Attorney General and Commissioner of Police appealed Justice Williams’ ruling and the appeal matter was heard at a sitting of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in Basseterre on December 4th.

In a unanimous decision, the Appeal court noted that the trial judge awarded a total of $350,000.00 in damages to the woman and $150, 000.00 in damages to the man for a total of approximately $500,000.00.

The Appellants had appealed the entire judgment but at the hearing the issues were narrowed to quantum only.

“We approach the review of an award of damages as to whether or not the award granted was wholly unreasonable or plainly wrong. We do not think the judge should have split the award. It should be global compensation to include all the factors taking into consideration all of the circumstances. Had she done that the First Claimant would have been awarded compensation of $350,000.00, and the Second Claimant, compensation of $150,000.00.

The case which is closest to this case is the Marina Marshall case which gave a total award of $525,000.00. We believe that this case is worst given that it included police officers. We think it was an egregious case. We look at the general damages, then factor into that the aggravated circumstances. We don’t agree that the judge could award exemplary damages but gave one award which included the aggravating factors. It maybe if we were doing it afresh we would have given a higher award,” said the three judge panel.

In the circumstances, however, they confirmed the sum of EC$350,094.00 as compensatory damages for the First Claimant, and $150,000.00 as compensatory damages to the Second Claimant for breach of his constitutional rights.

The claimants were represented at both trials by Angelina Gracy Sookoo of the Law Offices of Sylvester Anthony.

The male was arrested in 2013 on suspicion of robbery. But, while he was in custody the officers took the memory chip out of his phone, viewed its content on an office computer when they came across the video of the suspect and his girlfriend engaging in sexual acts. They are reported to have downloaded the material to their phones and disseminated it to the public.

The video was also posted on social websites and the couple filed a constitutional motion against the state.

During the high court trial Justice Williams condemned the actions of the police, pointing out that they are servants of the state charged with protecting the rights of individuals.

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