Update, 10:20am: The Cayman Islands Grand Court was told Tuesday morning that there was a “fatal defect” in the issuance last year of the search warrant against Sandra Catron’s home and vehicle and had declared the search “unlawful”. The reason given was that the failure of the Justice of the Peace to swear the information given to him by the police officer prior to issuing the warrant had forced the document to be held “invalid”. Justice Alex Henderson noted that there were “a number of other deficiencies” in the warrant application process and that Ms Catron should be awarded damages and costs in the case.
A Cayman Islands justice of the peace’s testimony Friday in Grand Court indicated that he signed a search warrant presented to him by Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officers last year even though he did not appear to understand the criminal offence described in the warrant.
Moreover, the justice signed a notarised affidavit on 4 September, 2012, in which he stated that police officers seeking the warrant provided him with absolutely no evidence at the time he signed it on 27 July, 2012.
According to the affidavit of Louis M. Ebanks: “… police never provide me with any evidence when having a warrant signed.”
The testimony came out during a judicial review hearing requested by a woman who is suspected of having misused an ICT network to threaten or harass another individual. The woman, Sandra Catron, asked for the judicial review after obtaining the affidavit from Mr. Ebanks and gathering other information that she claims showed the search warrant for her home was both obtained and carried out wrongly.
Grand Court Justice Alex Henderson stated that whether the police search at Ms Catron’s home and in her vehicle was carried out properly was not a matter for the judicial review application to consider. However, he did note that the issue of obtaining the warrant had caused him some “obvious concerns”.
First, Mr. Justice Henderson said that there was apparently no record of what was said to Mr. Ebanks on 27 July when RCIPS Detective Adrian Neblett approached him for the search warrant. Second, Mr. Henderson said there was no evidence presented to the court on Friday that the officer had sworn an oath to affirm what he was saying was true and correct when he applied for the search warrant.
“It sounds to me like he dropped in, chatted with [Mr. Ebanks] a few minutes and got him to sign the warrant,” Mr. Justice Henderson said. “How am I supposed to review that in any meaningful way?”
Senior Crown Counsel Suzanne Bothwell said Detective Neblett did provide reasons for seeking the search warrant against Ms Catron’s home and car to Mr. Ebanks orally, which she said was an acceptable standard according to the UK Privy Council. Mr. Neblett did not testify in court Friday, but was expected to appear Tuesday when the case resumed.
Also, Ms Bothwell said the affidavit signed following his approval of the search warrant was drafted by Ms Catron and only signed by Mr. Ebanks. Mr. Ebanks, however, did not dispute the statements made in the affidavit and said that Ms Catron had typed it up for him because he was not able to type.
According to details of the affidavit, which were read out in court on Friday: “[Officer Neblett] did not provide any details whatsoever regarding the warrant, which is a customary practice.”
“On August 22, 2012, Ms Catron contacted me via telephone and inquired what evidence I would have been provided in order to sign the search warrant. I replied ‘absolutely none’ and further indicated to her that police never provide me with any evidence when having a warrant signed.”
Details of the search warrant were also reviewed by the court, with Mr. Henderson noting the document did not appear to contain any information as to why the police were seeking it, other than stating Ms Catron was suspected “of the said offence of misuse of IT”.
At this stage, Ms Bothwell said there was oral evidence given to Mr. Ebanks at the time the warrant was applied for.
“So no record has to be kept of what police say to the justice of the peace?” Mr. Henderson asked.
During the course of Mr. Ebanks’ testimony in the judicial review hearing, he was asked why he agreed to sign such an affidavit as was presented to him by Ms Catron.
“He’s expected to cooperate in the system if he’s asked,” Justice Henderson said. “It’s not remarkable that he agreed to give [an affidavit].”
Mr. Ebanks noted that he “wasn’t aware all this was going to court” when he signed the affidavit. He also noted, when asked by Ms Bothwell, that he had taken no legal advice about signing the affidavit.
Judge Henderson remarked that it was ironic that Mr. Ebanks is “authorised to issue search warrants, but he should have legal advice before he signs a one-page affidavit”.
“He’s a judicial figure,” Mr. Henderson said.
“A judicial figure who is a layperson,” Ms Bothwell returned.
Mr. Ebanks testified that he did not remember Detective Neblett giving him any background with regard to the warrant against Ms Catron for the alleged “misuse of ICT” offences.
Ms Bothwell later asked what Mr. Ebanks understood to be the requirements for signing a search warrant.
“They’re looking for something suspicious for them to check and they want me to sign that,” Mr. Ebanks said.
Ms Bothwell also asked Mr. Ebanks if he understood the nature of the offence “misuse of ICT”, stating that he did not appear to understand it.
“I think that means misuse of something electrical, misuse of cell phones or laptop or something like that,” Mr. Ebanks replied.
Earlier in the judicial review proceeding, Mr. Henderson had questioned this approach by the Crown: “I guess I would have to ask again … is it really in the Crown’s best interest to show that a justice of the peace is unable to understand a one-page warrant? If that’s the case, why should he be signing search warrants?”
Ms Catron, who represented herself during the hearing, asked at a later stage if Mr. Ebanks had ever refused to sign a search warrant since his appointment as a justice of the peace in 1991.
Mr. Ebanks replied: “No.”
“Since you were appointed in 1991, you’ve never refused to sign a search warrant?” Justice Henderson asked.
At a later point during the testimony, Ms Catron stated: “There’s a reason why the RCIPS utilises JP’s like Mr. Ebanks.”
“She has no evidence of that,” Ms Bothwell replied, objecting to the statements Ms Catron had made. “I think people can draw their own conclusions, but we’re not going any further,” Mr. Justice Henderson said.