Justices of the peace in the spotlight

Dep Gov Franz Manderson pro main

The deputy governor’s office is looking into the Cayman Islands’ system for signing warrants following another unlawful search during the course of a criminal investigation.  

The search, involving a local woman’s home and vehicle, was done last year and ended up being the subject of a judicial review before the Grand Court in May. During that hearing, Justice Alexander Henderson scolded crown prosecutors, stating the search warrant had been signed without the police officer taking an oath of truthfulness or giving the justice of the peace who signed it certain evidence generally required before such a document is granted.  

“It sounds to me like [the officer] dropped in, chatted with [the justice of the peace] a few minutes and got him to sign the warrant,” Justice Henderson said during the hearing. 

The woman who had the warrants signed against her, Sandra Catron, has formally asked government officials to determine if the justice of the peace who signed the search warrant was still allowed to sign warrants. As of Tuesday 
afternoon, he was.  

“I remain alarmed that JPs who have had no training … would still be providing assistance to the police,” Ms Catron wrote in a letter on 14 June copied to Governor Duncan Taylor and the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission, as well as the justice of the peace who signed the warrant, Louis M. Ebanks.  

“The deputy governor’s office will discuss the concerns raised in the Catron matter with the Justice of the Peace Association and other interested parties – with a view of putting forward recommendations to His Excellency [the governor] and the government,” Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said in a statement to the Compass on Tuesday.  

Mr. Manderson declined to comment further.  

The head of the JPs association in Cayman, local banker Debra Humphreys, has declined to speak on the record with the Compass about the situation involving Ms Catron and the JP, Mr. Ebanks, citing ongoing court matters and now the review by the deputy governor’s office. However, Ms Humphreys said Tuesday that the issues before the court had not gone unnoticed by the association.  

“We’re actively discussing it,” she said Tuesday.  

 

Court case 

Mr. Ebanks’ testimony last month 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. 

The testimony came out during a judicial review hearing requested by Ms Catron, who is suspected of having misused an ICT network to threaten or harass another individual. After hearing the case, Justice Henderson tossed the warrants against Ms Catron’s home and vehicle, declaring them unlawful and stating that Ms Catron was due some damages over the case.  

During the course of the judicial review proceeding, crown counsel Suzanne Bothwell 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.  

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 testimony, Ms Catron stated: “There’s a reason why the RCIPS utilises JPs like Mr. Ebanks.”  

“The Cayman Islands government has had over four years to take corrective action to address the issue of JPs who should not sign warrants, as well as making training for these justices mandatory,” Ms Catron said in a statement Tuesday, referring ironically to the arrest of Justice Henderson in 2008 during the ill-fated Operation Tempura investigation that was later determined to be unlawful. During that case, investigators used a justice of the peace to approve arrest and search warrants against Justice Henderson in a method that was described by a court as “the gravest abuse of process”.  

“It appears that nothing has been done to date and this saddens me because it continues to put them at risk for additional legal action. What was highlighted as an issue during Operation Tempura has not been corrected,” Ms Catron said.  

 

JPs need review 

Long-time Cayman Islands Justice of the Peace Kirkland Nixon said Tuesday that he was following matters related to the Ebanks-Catron case closely, and that he was disappointed by the way things turned out. 

“[The system] needs fixing, that’s for sure,” Mr. Nixon said. “You can’t leave it the way it is.”  

Mr. Nixon, who became a JP in the mid-1980s, said he still believes the system can work. However, he said it needs two things: “First, persons appointed must be of the highest calibre. Second, they have to have proper training.”  

The former chief fire officer said he’d support a system where new JPs would have limited legal roles, such as signing notarised documents and the like, while the more experienced, better trained JPs could handle signing warrants and land certifications.  

“I don’t think a person should [issue] a JP warrant before they have reached a level of familiarity with the law,” he said. “If somebody brings something to me that I’m not sure of, my first course of action is to go see the magistrate.”  

Mr. Nixon said he generally signs three or four search warrants in a year. “It’s a serious matter when you’re taking people’s liberty from them.” 

Dep Gov Franz Manderson pro

Mr. Manderson

Judge-Henderson

Mr. Henderson

Catron,-Sandra

Ms Catron
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7 COMMENTS

  1. What a learning experience it must have been for this learned judge. I know this touch with injustice keeps him centered; I see it. Mr Nixon,s point to land certificate should not be seen as a general etc either. Cayman needs to know who has access to all the JP and notary public stamps, and insure a security protocol is in place and followed.

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  2. These concerns about the JP’s is no surprise to me because I have known of JP’s signing papers for persons in the afternoon for persons who was already dead in the morning. The license need to be taken away from many of the JP’s

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  3. I’m very pleased to see Ms. Catron taking this issue beyond her own personal case and looking at the larger concerns in the community as it relates to JPs and their incompetence. Clearly something has needed to be done about this long ago and it looks like we may finally have some change on the horizon!

    Well done Sandra Catron!

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  4. Blame it on Hollywood crime films. The directors misrepresent the important of protection from illegal search warrants by having police casually remark, we’ll get a search warrant, just like that. The average person does not know that a search warrant is issued after an affidavit for its support is presented and filed. This affidavit has to describe the reason and the things or places to be searched and seized. If no one is on the premises, the search warrant must be left behind along with the affidavit. The warrant must be endorsed and returned to the court. All of this is conveniently neglected by police determined to succeed with their case. I know of several cases where police have waved official looking documents and calling them a search warrant, have search and seized certain matter and made arrests and in the matter of the legality of the warrant, all have looked the other way as if proceeding with an unwritten gentleman’s agreement.

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  5. Unfortunately the JP situation is just another example of a chronic and systemic problem which is people having no knowledge of the law that they are supposed to follow and enforce being appointed to official positions with significant power over the lives of the rest of us. It happens throughout the public service and has for a long time. We have to end that abuse now.

    A few weeks ago the Deputy Governor revealed another BandAid in the form of the introduction of a new voluntary orientation programme that would come into effect AFTER people have been appointed to government boards. Too little, too late. What we must get to is a system in which no one is appointed to any civil service or other government position of authority unless they already have demonstrated a knowledge of the law and the position that they are being appointed to.

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  6. Why is he still signing warrants after being sued?

    Editor’s note: For clarity, Mr. Ebanks wasn’t sued. He was a witness in a judicial review where the issuance of a search warrant he signed was challenged.

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