The Privy Council rules 20 year old murder and attempted murder convictions were unsafe due to flawed identification evidence

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council have upheld The Bahamas Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn a 20-year-old conviction for murder, after dismissing an appeal by the Crown. The Privy Council had previously remitted the case to the Court of Appeal after ruling that one of the judges from a previous constitution of the appeal court should have recused himself from hearing the appeal after presiding over the second trial.

In 2001, Clinton Evans had been convicted of the murder of a police officer and attempted murder of a second officer and sentenced to death. Having been incarcerated since the offence was committed in 1999, Evans had already undergone three trials, three local appeals and two earlier appeals before the JCPC by the time he was finally released.

He had been convicted on the basis of a dock identification and a forensic report linking bullet casings found at the scene to a gun which Evans had allegedly hidden. But the firearms officer who made the report did not attend the trial for cross-examination.  The Court of Appeal was of the view that the admission of the firearms report without giving Evans the chance to challenge this evidence deprived Evans of a fair trial.

The JCPC did not agree with the Court of Appeal that there had been unfairness on the facts of this case by the failure of the Crown to call the firearms officer. However, they found that Evans’ conviction was unsafe for other reasons.

Chief among these was their ‘grave reservations’ about the quality of the identification evidence presented. They found the trial judge’s decision to allow dock identification to have been a material irregularity. The identification witness’s account was riddled with inconsistencies, was contradicted by the officer in charge of the ID parade and was undermined by the witness’s acceptance that he had previously identified Evans as one of his co-defendants. In those circumstances, the JCPC agreed that the decision to permit a dock identification was so prejudicial and unfair it rendered the verdict unsafe.

The Crown had also appealed against the decision of The Bahamas Court of Appeal not to order a retrial in Evans’ case. It was put forward on Evans behalf that, at aged 47, he had been living in a state of uncertainty over these offences since he was 26. The repeated trials, the repeated appellate hearings and the inordinate delay were no fault of his. The JCPC said that to subject Evans to a fourth trial would be oppressive.

Ben Cooper QC acted for Mr Evans, leading Amanda Clift-Matthews (former in house counsel with the Death Penalty Project) and Romona A Farquharson and was instructed by Simons Muirhead and Burton. The full judgement can be found here.