Judge: Scope of CMR trial to focus only on harassment

Cayman Marl Road host Sandra Hill appears in a screenshot of a now deleted live broadcast made in February 2019, in which she made a range of allegations against Matthew Leslie.

The trial of Cayman Marl Road host Sandra Hill encountered further delays on Thursday, as Justice Roger Chapple sought to establish the scope and intention of Cayman’s Information and Communications Technology Law.

Chapple explained that he has very little case precedence to reference in regard to the ICT Law. Only one ICT harassment case has gone to trial in Cayman previously and no mirror law exists in the United Kingdom to consult, the judge said.

In the absence of such reference material, much of Thursday morning’s proceedings was spent debating the wording and interpretation of Section 90 of the ICT Law, the legal provision in question.

That section reads, in part, “A person who knowingly uses an ICT network or ICT service to defraud, abuse, annoy, threaten or harass any other person commits an offence”.

Upon summary conviction, such an offence can result in a $10,000 fine and imprisonment for one year. Conviction on indictment can result in a $20,000 fine and imprisonment for two years. The court also may, by order, restrain the offender from further use of ICT services.

In February, Hill pleaded not guilty to the charge of using an ICT network to abuse, annoy or harass local businessman Matthew Leslie. At the heart of the case is a live broadcast Hill made in February 2019, in which a range of allegations were made against Leslie.

Chapple has determined that for the purposes of this trial, the truthfulness of Hill’s allegations is irrelevant and that the matter at hand refers to the charge of harassment.

Following cross-examination of Leslie by Hill’s attorney, Clayton Phuran, Chapple said he became “increasingly concerned that Mr. Phuran was exploring at length the truth or otherwise of the allegations made in Ms. Hill’s exposé,” adding that, “Every instinct in me tells me that this trial is not the appropriate forum in which to explore that question.”

Chapple then established the scope of the case would centre on Hill’s use of an ICT network and whether in doing so, she intended to abuse, annoy or harass Leslie.

“It is all together unnecessary for the prosecution to prove that the podcast was targeted at Mr. Leslie. It’s enough that [Hill] contemplated that it would come to his attention and that if and when it did so, she was aware of the likelihood it would cause abuse, annoyance or harassment,” Chapple said.

“If allegations are made that someone is a paedophile, having sex with prostitutes, is narcissistic, it doesn’t take much to prove that the recipient, in this case Mr. Leslie, at whom they were aimed, would be caused, at the very least, annoyance.”

He advised that Phuran was getting ahead of himself in delving into discussion of freedom of speech, and that the balancing of that “jealously guarded right” would be taken into consideration later in the trial, after evidence had been presented.

“I hope in due course we can have a more elevated and less emotive discussion,” Chapple said.

Once cross-examination recommenced, Leslie told Phuran that while other media outlets have written about him in the past, those articles were different in nature than what Hill had broadcast.

“I’ve never had media come to me other than to ask about the allegations made by Ms. Hill. I’ve never had a media outlet do an exposé on me other than to ask about allegations made by Ms. Hill,” Leslie said.

Phuran later posed the question, “Is it a fact that you were not offended by any of the posts?”

“That’s why we’re here,” Leslie responded. “What do you mean not offended? Are you out of your mind? … I’m not only offended, I’m disgusted.”

A second witness, from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, was not questioned as expected on Thursday due to court protocol, which requires 24 hours’ notice before a witness appears, and is due to appear instead on Friday.

Before the trial adjourned for the day, Crown prosecutor Darlene Oko read into evidence an RCIPS report regarding the Hill and Leslie dispute.

That report explained that on 19 Feb. 2019, officers spoke with Hill at her office at Pasadora Place and warned her against making a planned broadcast against Leslie.

Police advised Hill, according to the report read by Oko, that if she had been presented with evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Leslie, that she should encourage the alleged victims to file a police report.

She told officers she was of the view that Leslie was using the police and that he was seemingly above the law, the report indicated. She rejected an offer made by police to facilitate a remediation session with Leslie.

Ultimately, Hill would air her complaints against Leslie in a now-deleted Facebook live broadcast made on 25 Feb. 2019. That podcast is a central element in Leslie’s case against Hill.

The trial is scheduled to continue Friday and Monday.

If you value our service, if you have turned to us in the past few days or weeks for verified, factual updates, if you have watched our live streaming of press conferences or sent an article to a friend... please consider a donation. Quality local journalism was at risk before the coronavirus crisis. It is now deeply threatened. Even a small amount can go a long way to sustaining our mission of informing the public. We need our readers’ financial support now more than ever.