Sheldon Brown’s trial raised many issues

The appeal of Sheldon Marquiss Brown against a conviction for attempted murder is expected to be heard by the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal during its Easter 2007 session.

Brown, 36, was sentenced to 22 years imprisonment in January after a jury found him guilty of attempting to unlawfully kill James Fernando Martin.

The charge arose after a shooting incident on the night of 17 August, 2004, at the Cayman Islander Hotel.

After conviction, Brown told the court he did not commit the crime. He acknowledged he had not conducted the best life. This, he felt sure, had contributed to the jury’s guilty verdict.

Brown gave evidence during the trial and acknowledged his previous convictions.

Before the jury began hearing evidence Defence Counsel Paul Purnell QC asked Mr. Justice Dale Sanderson to consider restricting publicity in the case.

He said the Defence team had put together a collection from various news sources on reports made since the beginning of 2004. He said the coverage in many ways had been hostile.

The judge refused to ban reporting on the basis that court proceedings are public. Several days later, however, representatives of CITN were brought before the judge because of a broadcast containing commentary that might be construed by jurors as prejudicial.

After hearing from all parties, including Crown Counsel, Mr. Justice Sanderson ordered a ban on publication of all proceedings, subject to one caveat: that media could report proceedings if they first provided to the Crown and Defence a copy of what they intended to report. If the Crown and Defence agreed, it could be reported. If they did not agree, it could be brought to the judge for resolution.

The judge said his intention was to ensure that the press and the public had their rights of information protected and that the defendant had his right to a fair trial protected.

He added that this order was subject to review on application by any member of the media.

Cayman Free Press, publishers of the Caymanian Compass, immediately challenged the order. It was the only media house to do so.

While the order was in force, the Compass complied by not reporting any stories about the trial. Editor Tammie C. Chisholm said Cayman Free Press appreciated the desire for a fair trial in any matter. That was why it was so important for the freedom of the press to be upheld.

The order had the potential to set a dangerous precedent, Mrs. Chisholm said. If attorneys or judges were allowed to vet news reports before they were published, what would stop agencies in other branches of government from making the same demands, she asked.

On behalf of Cayman Free Press, Attorney Cherry Bridges brought to the court’s attention a ruling of the Privy Council made in June 2004. The ruling made it clear that, without a statutory provision, the courts do not have the power to postpone the publication of ongoing proceedings.

Mrs. Bridges also provided evidence to show that the UK Contempt of Court Act was not included on a list of UK Acts of Parliament that had been extended to the Cayman Islands.

After reviewing the legal submissions and the situation that led to his order in the first place, Mr. Justice Sanderson concluded that the court did not have the jurisdiction to make an order preventing or delaying the publication of proceedings without legislation in place enabling him to do so.

The judge therefore varied his order and issued a warning. He said the media could publish an accurate and fair account of the evidence put before the jury, but they were not entitled to publish anything else. In particular, they were not entitled to publish or broadcast any commentary that could be prejudicial to the defendant.

If statements were made that he considered prejudicial and which might impair a fair trial, he would cite the publisher for contempt of court. The publisher could expect a fine in the six-figure range if Mr. Justice Sanderson heard the matter and found him guilty.

After this ruling, the Compass resumed reporting the trial.

Later in the trial, representatives of radio station Z99 were brought to court and asked why they should not be held in contempt after a particular broadcast.

In the end, no contempt charge was brought against any member of the media.

After the trial was over and Brown had been sentenced, Cayman Free Press Managing Director Brian Uzzell said challenging the court order had involved considerable time and expense.

‘But if you believe as we at CFP do – in the freedom of the press – then you have to be prepared to undertake the necessary actions that this belief requires,’ he said.

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