Thursday, March 19, 2009


Three Privy Council decisions:

The inherent jurisdiction of final appellate courts

Bain v R (New Zealand) [2008] UKPC 6 (16 March 2009) at para 6:

"The Privy Council, like other final courts of appeal, has an inherent jurisdiction to discharge or vary its own orders in cases in which this is necessary for the purposes of justice. But the exercise of this jurisdiction will be rare, because finality is generally in the interests of justice. In Taylor v Lawrence [2003] QB 528 the English Court of Appeal discussed the circumstances in which it would exercise the jurisdiction in cases in which it was for practical purposes a final court of appeal because the case was not of sufficient general public importance to justify leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Lord Woolf CJ said (at p.547):

"What will be of the greatest importance is that it should be clearly established that a significant injustice has probably occurred and that there is no alternative effective remedy.""

The significance of absent evidence

In John v The State (Trinidad and Tobago) [2009] UKPC 9 (16 March 2009) there had been no identification parade in circumstances where one should have been held (26). The witness, an accomplice, claimed to have been forced to drive the offender to a Club where a robbery and murder occurred, and then to drive them away. He also claimed to have recognised the appellant as someone he had seen hanging around Queen and Nelson Streets, Port of Spain. This witness, a taxi driver, was, much later, given immunity from prosecution in exchange for evidence identifying the offender. He identified the appellant in the dock at the preliminary hearing.

Immediately after the offending the witness had given the police two facts which led to the appellant's arrest: the nickname "Dollars" by which the other offenders had called the person, and that he picked up the person at Sea Lots and returned him there after the offending.

The Board split 4-1 on whether the absence of an identification parade had caused the trial to be unfair. Baroness Hale dissented; she would have held the trial to have been unfair. She referred (43) to the majority's bootstraps argument: one can't say this was a recognition case, therefore the absence of a parade didn't matter, without assuming that the identification was correct. The majority (judgment delivered by Lord Brown, with brief concurring remarks by Lord Hoffmann at 34 – 36) considered that on the evidence actually given, in the context of the judicial cautions that the jury received, there was no significant possibility of mistaken recognition here (23, 27).

This case is one of a clash of theories about the witness's assertion of the link between the offender and the appellant.

Send out the jury while we discuss threats

Too much information was given to the jury before a chambers discussion of the possibility that an accused had made threats to witnesses in Mitcham v R (Saint Christopher and Nevis) [2008] UKPC 7 (16 March 2009). The court record summarised what had happened (9):

"MR. MERCHANT, DPP rises to state that certain destructing developments have occurred which threaten the orderly conduct of the matter. It relates to threats."

Not to worry, said the Privy Council: this was a fleeting and oblique reference to threats (18); there had been no request to discharge the jury (and discharge would not have been justified), and the point was not taken in the Court of Appeal.

The proper procedure was referred to at 13, with the possible judicial responses mentioned at 14. The Board approved the approach to the decision whether to discharge the jury taken by Auld LJ in R v Lawson [2005] EWCA Crim 84, [2007] 1 Cr App R 20.

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