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Lawyer says Burton’s arrest was ‘unlawful and wrongful’

Lawyer says Burton’s arrest was ‘unlawful and wrongful’

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With his lawyer’s no-case submission overruled yesterday, politician Burton Williams will at 1:30 p.m. today — Tuesday — continue his testimony in the trial involving two criminal charges against him.{{more}}

The former health minister is charged with behaving in a manner in which a breach of peace was likely to be occasioned, contrary to section 15 of the Public Order Act, Chapter 396.

He is also accused of attempting to damage property.

The charges stem from an alleged incident at the House of Assembly, during a protest march and rally on January 28, 2011.

The protest was organised by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), of which Williams is a member.

Senior Magistrate Donald Browne yesterday overruled a no-case submission by Williams’ counsel, Andreas Coombs.

Compelling evidence

“There is evidence. The evidence is very compelling,” Browne said in his ruling at the Kingstown Magistrates’ Court.

In his no-case submission, Coombs said no property was specified in the damage to property charge.

“This is a fundamental error; a fundamental defect,” the lawyer argued.

Police sergeant Ornal Jacobs told the court last week that Burton and other protestors used a barricade to ram the main gate to the parliament building.

Police corporal Wilma Black-Williams also said she saw when Williams and other protestors began to “ram the supreme court gate”.

Coombs argued that not stating what property in the charge was “a faxing issue”.

“By not being able to identify the faxing issue, a determination could not have been properly made whether or not the element of the offence is satisfied,” he said.

“… how are we to determine what property Mr Williams was trying to damage? It is imperative in the circumstances [that] the charge specify precisely what property they are saying he tried to damage.”

The lawyer said the prosecution did not use the provisions set out in the law to remedy the charge.

“… We don’t know precisely what case the prosecution should have proved because of the fatal defect in the charge.”

In relation to the charge of breaching the peace, Coombs said there was evidence by police officers who said they were around the scene when the incident allegedly occurred.

In addressing the testimony of former Assistant Superintendent of Police Willisford Caesar, Coombs asked: “Was he (Caesar) present when the alleged breach of the peace occurred? The answer is a resounding ‘no’.”

No treats, no confrontation

Coombs said Black-Williams said she called Caesar, who said when he arrived he did not see any member of the crowd threatening his officers nor was there any physical confrontation between his officers and the crowd.

“In the first instance, Caesar was not present when the alleged incident took place,” Coombs said.

“A breach of the peace is alleged to have been committed five months after Caesar decided to charge?” he asked.

On June 16, 2011, five months after the alleged incident, Caesar invited Williams to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), in relation to the matter, but Williams did not give a statement.

Williams was then arrested and charged.

Coombs said that by June 16, 2011, Caesar did not have the power to arrest Williams for breach of the peace “because he was not present to apprehend or view the breach of the peace as it was occurring.”

The lawyer said the arrest of his client was “unlawful and wrongful”.

“Once there is no longer any threat of breach of the peace, the powers of arrest no longer exist,” he said.

“… We are humbly requesting our no-case submission to be upheld and Williams acquitted,” Coombs argued.

Cases to answer

In response, crown counsel Colin John said there was in fact a case on both charges for Williams to answer.

John argued that Williams was not charged for breach of the peace, but with behaving in a manner in which a breach of peace was likely to be occasioned.

“This is a case where the magistrate could prove beyond reasonable doubt by the evidence provided,” John said, adding, “I am not submitting that my case is weak or tenuous, but this case should be put to Mr Williams.

“We are saying that there is sufficient evidence for a conviction. We are satisfied that a prima facie case was made out and therefore he should be asked to answer the charges.”

John defended the charges against Williams, saying there was no defect in either of them.

“I am submitting that the accused had full disclosure, and we submitted all statements way ahead of time. They (defense) knew what charge they had to meet and had adequate time to prepare,” John added.

Williams was a minister under the NDP before falling out of favour with the party in 1994 and returned as a candidate during the 2010 elections.

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