Appeal Court gives guidance for judge-only trials in Sean Luke case

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Sean Luke, six, who was murdered in 2006. –

The Court of Appeal has given judges who sit in judge-only trials guidance on what they are required to provide in the reasons for their verdict.

Justices of Appeal Nolan Bereaux, Mark Mohammed and Maria Wilson provided the guidance in their written decision in the Sean Luke murder trial appeal, delivered on May 29.

On July 19, 2022, the judges delivered an oral decision and ordered a new trial for the two men, who were convicted in July 2021 of the murder of the six-year-old.

Their decision came after prosecutors said they could not defend the appeal filed by Akeel Mitchell and Richard Chatoo.

In its ruling, the Appeal Court agreed the trial judge made “material errors which have led to a serious miscarriage of justice.”

They also offered guidance to judges on the “minimum content of the written judgment required in judge-only trials.”

At the appeal, the adequacy of the judge’s written reasons was faulted as being “fundamentally deficient from a legal and juridical perspective.”

In their guidance, the Appeal Court acknowledged that “different facets and nuances of judge-alone trials will no doubt arise for appellate scrutiny.”

They also acknowledged they would have further opportunities to offer “more specific and tailored” guidance in other cases that would come before them requiring them to interrogate context-specific issues.

However, they said while reasons for a verdict in a judge-only trial were not expected to cover “every single issue in the trial, they must, at minimum, include the significant issues raised.

“Further, they must expose the trial judge’s process of reasoning by linking the principles of law and the factual findings arrived at to illustrate, with sufficient clarity, the process by which the verdict was arrived at.

“The reasons must show a clear and sufficient engagement with all of the live issues in the case,” was their guidance to all judges hearing cases in judge-only trials.

The appeal was the first involving a judge-only trial. The retrial has not yet taken place.

Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds convicted Mitchell and Chatoo after they opted for a judge-only trial. They can opt for a jury at their next trial.

At their trial, both men denied killing Luke.

Luke’s body was found on March 28, 2006, in a bushy area in the cane field close to his home at Henry Street Extension, Orange Valley, Couva, two days after he went missing. An autopsy showed he died from internal injuries arising from being sodomised with a cane stalk.

Attorneys Jagdeo Singh, Richard Jaggasar, Vere-Marie Khan, Alyssa Seecharan, Shane Patience, Vashisht Seepersad, Savitri Samaroo and Khadija Sinanan represented the two at the Court of Appeal.

The State was represented by deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Sabrina Dougdeen Jaglal and then-deputy DPP George Busby, now a High Court judge.