A Cayman Islands woman who had an unlawful search warrant issued against her last year has been offered $3,000 in a settlement proposed by the crown.
Sandra Catron said last week that she considered that amount “insulting” and intended to proceed with a lawsuit against the government over the issue. That lawsuit was filed on Wednesday.
Ms Catron pointed out that Grand Court Justice Alex Henderson had received a $1.275 million payout in 2009 over an unlawful search and arrest at his home.
Ms Catron said, following a declaration that the search of her car and home in July 2012 by police was unlawful, that she wished to negotiate an agreeable settlement with the crown. Correspondence sent to Ms Catron on 24 July of this year set out the terms of the crown’s $3,000 offer.
“Clearly, this was an exercise in futility,” Ms Catron said.
The warrant was issued against Ms Catron’s home and vehicle by a justice of the peace who neither recorded what police said to him during the warrant application process or obtained an oath of truthfulness prior to the warrant application from the officers.
Justice Henderson, who heard the case, said failing to record the statements of police was not a good practice and that applying for a warrant before a “judicial figure” without swearing an oath was a blatant violation of the Criminal Procedure Code.
“It sounds to me like [the police 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 judicial review hearing on the case.
After consulting with Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Commissioner David Baines about the issue, Senior Crown Counsel Suzanne Bothwell stated that the oath-taking from the police officer was a “statutory precondition” under the criminal code.
“That has not been satisfied … in this case,” Ms Bothwell said. “The warrant must be held to be invalid on this particular ground.”
Justice Henderson scolded the crown prosecutor during the Grand Court hearing, stating it was “blindingly obvious” that a warrant application given to a justice of the peace by a police officer must be done under oath.
“That’s the rule in every Western democracy,” Mr. Henderson said.
The Grand Court judge also noted that there were other deficiencies in the warrant application process that would probably lead to a damages claim against the government by Ms Catron. Justice Henderson said he would like to the see the justice of the peace involved in this case, Louis M. Ebanks, absolved of any personal liability if that proved to be the case.
“The justice of the peace must have a clear understanding of the elements of the offence,” Mr. Henderson said during the hearing. “He must ask himself whether each element of that offence is present. It is not enough that a police officer subjectively believes an offence has been committed.”
Mr. Ebanks’ testimony in Grand Court indicated that he signed a search warrant that alleged Ms Catron had been involved in misuse of ICT network offences even though he did not appear to understand the offence described in the warrant.
About a month after approving the search warrant, the justice of the peace signed a notarised affidavit in which he stated police officers seeking the warrant provided him with absolutely no evidence regarding the offence Ms Catron had allegedly committed.
According to the affidavit from Mr. Ebanks: “… police never provide me with any evidence when having a warrant signed”.