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.
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.”