Case could have major implications
Cayman Islands prosecutors are appealing the decision of a Summary Court magistrate who dismissed cocaine possession and consumption charges against a George Town man this year.
Those charges, filed against defendant Richard Steve Parson, were dismissed after the magistrate ruled that the time limit for prosecution of the case had run out. Lawyers generally refer to such a case as being statute limited or statute barred.
The statute of limitations is a legal guideline for Summary Court/criminal procedure cases that requires charges to be filed within six months from the time authorities become aware of the alleged offence. If not, the case must be dismissed.
This is what happened with the Parson case, according to court records reviewed by the Caymanian Compass. His case was dismissed by the court on 19 August. Senior Crown prosecutor John Masters filed the notice of appeal on 25 August, claiming to be “aggrieved and dissatisfied” with the magistrate’s ruling.
“The Learned Magistrate erred in law in holding that proceedings for the offences of (1) possession of cocaine and (2) consumption of cocaine were commenced outside of the required time period and therefore dismissed the said charges,” the notice of intention to appeal stated.
Neither the appeal nor the application to Summary Court to state a case noted specifics of how the magistrate had allegedly erred in law. At press time, the matter had not been heard by a court.
The issue of statute barred cases came to the fore this year when the Caymanian Compass reported that nearly four dozen Summary Court/criminal procedure cases had been thrown out because the time limit for charging the defendants had passed. (See Compass, 22 October ‘Dozens of crimes not prosecuted’).
An open records request filed by a local attorney this year revealed that 45 offences, 43 criminal cases and two traffic tickets, had not been prosecuted between August 2005 and February 2010 because they were statute barred. The charges in each case and the reasons the timeline for prosecution had passed were not specified in the initial records request.
It was not immediately clear whether the Crown challenge to the Parson case would affect any of the old cases.
The attorney who made the open records request, Peter Polack, said it was a “particular brand of incompetence” that would result in the prosecution of 45 offences irreversibly jeopardised by the simple passage of time.
Solicitor General Cheryll Richards took umbrage at those comments and blasted the Compass for reporting a story that she said had brought the Cayman Islands criminal justice system “into disrepute”.
According to a statement released by Ms Richards after the initial Compass article was published, “The term ‘statute barred’ refers to not complying with a statutory requirement for bringing certain charges. Some offences, usually summary only charges, are required to be laid at Court within six months of a competent complainant receiving evidence of the offence.
“When a submitted file is statute barred, a public prosecutor would advise the investigator of this legal position. It would be irresponsible and contrary to the law not to.
“The Legal Department does not, however, have any control over when a file is submitted for review after a complaint has been made to the RCIPS or an investigation conducted.
“The time frame for completion of investigations is a matter for the police.“
Police spokesperson Janet Dougall did not dispute the number of criminal cases reported by the Compass in regard to the statute barred criminal cases.
“A case would be statute barred if the investigating officer is unable to complete the investigation within the stipulated period time frame,” Mrs. Dougall said. “There are many reasons why an officer may be unable to complete the case within the permitted time; for example, being unable to trace witnesses who have left the jurisdiction.”
The Compass has since requested a complete list of reasons in each case that was statute barred since August 2005.