Unwarranted warrants

Hall of Justice, Port of Spain. - File photo/Roger Jacob
Hall of Justice, Port of Spain. - File photo/Roger Jacob

NOT ONLY does the award of hundreds of thousands in damages by the High Court on Wednesday to three Beetham residents point to the need for better police conduct, it represents yet another ruling signaling the urgent need for reform of the process by which warrants are obtained.

The case involved three brothers, including community activist and lawyer Kareem Marcelle, who were asleep in their home one day in 2018. Police officers barged in around 5.30 am, using sledge hammers to destroy a back door.

Mr Marcelle was dragged naked from his bed, threatened and put in handcuffs. He was not allowed to see the warrant which an officer had purportedly obtained from a justice of the peace.

No official involved in this case was able to furnish an ounce of evidence supporting any reasonable basis upon which such an invasion of privacy could have been warranted.

On Wednesday, Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams ordered the State to compensate the three men in excess of $618,000.

The judge further held the warrant used by the police was maliciously procured, the fact of its mere issuance was not good enough and the officer who caused it to be issued did not have probable cause.

If this case confirms the perception held by many of a police force in thrall to an array of prejudices, it also represents yet another judicial finding which points to the deficiencies of how justices of the peace perform their duties.

The case brings back memories of the 2021 ruling by Justice Frank Seepersad on search warrants being issued in relation to the media in which he noted the law is archaic and deficient and that it requires urgent review.

“The invasion of homes, offices and private spaces amounts to a significant constitutional infringement and should only occur where there exists evident and reasonable justification,” Justice Seepersad noted in the case brought by the One Caribbean Media Group against the State.

That little progress has been made in this area of reform, however, was only recently confirmed by the now infamous Brent Thomas ruling in which another High Court judge had cause to lament the way warrants were granted by a justice of the peace against Mr Thomas.

“It is incredibly amazing that any justice of the peace in this jurisdiction could have granted a search warrant in terms of the ones that were granted herein based on the information that they were given as set out above,” stated Justice Devindra Rampersad. “Clearly, this was a case of mere rubber stamping.”

It is time for legislation to be brought to end such rubber stamping once and for all.


"Unwarranted warrants"

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