By Dickie Bradley
I may be able to tell my grandchildren, God-willing, that there was a judge in my time, who stood up for Ex Aequo Et Bono. And that I was proud to have practiced in his Court.
That Judge is Denis Hannomansingh.
When Justice, the Honourable Denis Hannomansingh appeared on the Bench in the Supreme Court of Belize, the situation regarding putting persons in jail and keeping them there before a trial was a vexing issue. With crime and specifically gun related crimes on the increase, the legislators (read politicians) were increasing by passing knee-jerk, draconian laws to lock up citizens before their having a trial. In other words, punish people before they could have a trial. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence?
Under the Crime Control laws, the legislators kept amending and amending, making the situation extremely difficult for accused persons to get bail. In fact, the laws took away the time honoured principle that bail is a right and not a privilege.
What the law started doing was to deprive all Magistrates on their authority and discretion to grant bail to persons accused of having firearm and/or ammunition or of committing any offence using a firearm.
The number of persons being denied bail skyrocketed, adding in one year to some five hundred persons listed as remanded at the prison for sundry offences.
The draconian law stated that for the first three months no magistrates can grant bail. Such a law could not do the same thing for Judges, who under the separation of Power doctrine had some insulation as they were and are the only real guardians of our Constitution and the fundamental rights guaranteed in Part 2 of this crucial law and sacred document.
Not that there weren’t obstacles. The Amendments prevented citizens from applying to the Supreme Court until after a certain period. The law required persons applying for bail to show the Supreme Court in writing, Special Reasons why they should be allowed their freedom.
Special Reasons, according to a much followed decision does not apply to the accused person, only to the circumstances surrounding the crime. For some time, prosecutors used this section to keep persons in prison. Judge Legal had subsequently demolished this misleading law but it was the Judge with the long name that changed everything else.
Suddenly, the handful of lawyers practising at the criminal section of the Supreme Court saw a new attitude. The presumption of innocence was restored. The right to liberty became triumphant. No more waiting to apply. Every Friday dozens of poor, downtrodden and marginalized citizens were treated as entitled to the protection of the law.
The old tired, discredited Lady Justice had become a Diva; respected and honoured by ordinary folks. The amount of bail approved to a poor person was a signed bail. Baby, it could not get fairer than that.
In Supreme Court trials, sitting on the bench Justice Hannomansingh could cut a scolding, no-nonsense Authority but he was always fair. Always.
In a murder trial-R v Aracely Cahueque, three persons were accused of cutting off the head of a young mother and throwing the body and head in the river by Roaring Creek. This was done so the mother’s young baby could be stolen by Cahueque; a young student at UB who was tried for abetment to the murder. In the course of this sensational trial, gross Police misconduct emerged. Of the three accused murderers, one was blind. Just weeks after his arrest and remand to prison. He was taken out of his cell and Police obtained a strange statement implicating Cahueque. The law against Police misconduct of this kind is strong. Despite possibly public blowback, the Judge with the long name stayed true to his oath of office and upheld the law.
There was the serious case of several police officers said to have facilitated the landing of a drug plane on the Southern Highway, several years ago. Fifty-two witnesses in the deposition. When the prosecution closed its case in the Dangriga Supreme Court, even a bush lawyer could predict the verdict. There being pilinky evidence. What is a trial Judge to do? Risk the wrath of the American Embassy or “…to thine oneself be true.”
Anthony Sylvestre is easily the foremost constitutional attorney in Belize and is also always helping the victims of injustice, many of whom can’t afford lawyers. I asked Anthony if Judge Hannomansingh had made a difference as a Judge in Belize. The answer, an unhesitating yes. So too Leeroy Banner, former prosecutor now defence attorney. And Oswald Twist, Ellis Arnold, Arthur Saldivar, Simeon Sampson, Brian Neal, Herbert Panton, Rachel Montejo and on and on.
At the top paragraph I mentioned the latin phrase Ex Aequo Et Bono. It comes from Rule 38 (2) of the Rules of the International Court of Justice. In 1947 Guatemala had stated it would agree to go to the ICJ on the Anglo-Guatemalan Dispute if the Court heard the case in accordance with 38 (2) the British rejected this as they wanted a limited legal interpretation only.
Ex Aequo Et Bono means the equity and justice of a case taking into account what is fair, and right and looking at other documents and the circumstances of the issues.
When I first came across the phrase some years ago, I began equating it with the Judge with the long name.
I’m scribbling these few lines Thursday 28th November 2018. Morning is an hour away. A chilly Christmas North Easterly wind is over Belize City. Supreme Court Marshall “Fish” Alvarez mentioned that the Judge is leaving Belize in a few days on retirement. We shall see him no more.
So, on behald of us attorneys and on behalf of the many persons and their families, whose lives you touched and transformed, we want you to know we appreciate you and thank you and we wish you and your family all the very best.
In Rasta language, BLESS.