The Court of Appeal has quashed the conviction of Judith Douglas, who was found guilty last year of cheating a dive instructor out of nearly $2 million by pretending the money was used to advance his Caymanian status application.
The court ordered a retrial.
Douglas, 54, was 14 months into her 10-year prison sentence after being convicted by a jury in July last year of obtaining property by deception for allegedly cheating dive instructor Nathaniel Robb out of $1.9 million over a five-year period in an immigration scam.
She brought her case before the appeals court last month.
Jonathon Hughes, Douglas’s attorney, argued before the appeals court that the conviction was unsafe because the comments of the trial judge, Justice Carlisle Greaves, were “hostile”, “inappropriate” and prejudiced the jury.
“There are several instances where the judge was unduly hostile towards Ms. Douglas in the presence of, and without, the jury,” said Hughes during the appeal hearing. “The cumulative effect of this was such that it prejudiced the jury and did not give the appellant a fair trial.
“One such example is when Ms. Douglas was trying to give her evidence and [Justice Greaves] said, ‘Next question. I said, next question. Shut up, lady. Now, look at what you have made me say; things that I should not say.’”
Judge Cheryll Richards read out the ruling on behalf of the appeals court justices.
“We have read and read and re-read the judge’s interventions, this is not a case in which it could be said that the judge assumed the role of prosecutor… rather the judge displayed persistent rudeness towards the appellant laced with aggression, hostility and, on one occasion, sarcasm,” read Richards.
Toyin Salako, who prosecuted Douglas in the original case, had told the appeals court judges that while she was not trying to defend Greaves, his actions were meant to “assist Ms. Douglas”, and that he had treated all other parties in the case in a similar fashion. The appeals court dismissed that argument.
“The fact that the judge may, indefensibly, have behaved similarly towards others is not an answer, they were not the ones facing a serious criminal charge,” read Richards. “Neither is it an answer that some criticism may justifiably be directed at the appellant’s behaviour.
“A defendant, however difficult and however strong the case is against him or her, is entitled to be treated fairly and with courtesy by a judge; unfortunately, that did not happen in this case.”
In their judgment, the justices said they were driven to quash the conviction because “no reasonable observer would have left court feeling this appellant had a fair trial”.
“In this exceptional case, we are driven to allow the appeal,” Richards read.
After quashing the conviction, the Court of Appeal then ordered that Douglas be retried before the Grand Court on the same charges.
After the decision was read, Salako asked that Douglas be kept on remand, as that was the previous decision of the Grand Court during her trial. Richards agreed and ordered that Douglas be kept behind bars until next week when she is expected to make a formal bail application.