Mon | Aug 2, 2021

Court grants Reid, co-accused leave to challenge ruling to order trial

Published:Saturday | June 12, 2021 | 12:09 AMTanesha Mundle/Staff Reporter

Former Education Minister Ruel Reid and his co-accused yesterday scored a victory in the Supreme Court after they were granted permission to challenge the decision of a senior parish judge in the Review Court, where they are seeking to have the ruling quashed.

Chief Parish Judge Chester Crooks, in February, had ruled in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court that the two applicants and their co-accused, who are implicated in a multimillion-dollar fraud case, had a case to answer.

The judge’s ruling was in response to a preliminary objection in law raised by the applicants on the basis that the charges against them should be nullified as the Financial Investigations Division (FID), which levelled the charges, has no authority in law to arrest or bring charges against them.

However, following the ruling both Reid and Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) President Professor Fritz Pinnock contended that Crooks should not have ruled in the matter, as he had admitted to a conflict of interest.

Conflict of interest

After making the ruling, the parish judge had declared that he was recusing himself from the trial because of a conflict of interest. It was later revealed that the conflict of interest was in relation to his attendance at Munro College while Reid was head boy.

On that basis, the applicants sought leave to have the judge’s decision reviewed and argument was heard on May 9 in the Supreme Court before Justice Courtney Daye.

Both applicants, through their attorney-at-law Hugh Wildman, had argued that they were deprived of a fair hearing at the pretrial hearing of their preliminary objection because of Crooks’ conflict of interest, adding that the judge should have disqualified himself from the outset of the hearing as his decision would have been affected by his bias.

But Crooks’ attorney countered that the judge’s potential conflict of interest did not show any adverse or unfavourable position towards the applicants.

The attorney also submitted that there was no evidence in any affidavit by the applicants of any conflict of interest by the judge that amounts to bias when he heard their application, and also that there were no animosity between themselves and the judge.

But Daye, in his judgment which was published yesterday, said he found that the applicants had an arguable complaint that Judge Crooks had a conflict of interest before hearing the objection, and that it is possible that his refusal of the preliminary objection was biased.

The judge further indicated that Crooks should have given equal weight to his considerations for the interest of fairness to both the trial and the preliminary hearing.

“The fact that the preliminary objection concerned a matter of law does not diminish the benefit to the right to a fair hearing at the preliminary trial stage,” he said.

When contacted yesterday, Wildman said he was happy with the ruling.

Reid, his wife Sharen, their daughter Sharelle, along with Pinnock, and Brown’s Town Division Councillor Kim Brown Lawrence, were arrested by law enforcement agencies in 2019 in connection with a major fraud and corruption probe by the FID involving transactions at the CMU.

The accused charges included conspiracy to defraud, misconduct in a public office at common law and breaches of the Proceeds of Crime Act.

In the meantime, the accused are to return to the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court for trial on July 27.

tanesha.mundle@gleanerjm.com