From the Court of Appeal of Jamaica
The deceased was shot dead on the veranda of his house. Following a two week trial the appellant was convicted of the deceased’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without eligibility for parole for 40 years. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appellant’s appeal against conviction but allowed his appeal against sentence to the extent of substituting 30 years for 40 years as the period of non-eligibility for parole. The Board granted the appellant special leave to appeal against his conviction.
The deceased shared his house with his girlfriend, Lydia Minnott, who was the principal witness for the prosecution. Her evidence was that, on the day in question, the appellant, together with his mother and his young nephew, had come to the house and there had been an argument between them and the deceased. There came a stage in which the appellant pointed his gun at the deceased and she (Ms Minnott) telephoned for the police. Shortly after that the appellant shot the deceased in the side of the head. Ms Minnott was at that time some five feet away from the deceased, the gunman a further two or three feet away. After that the appellant was joined by two other men who took the gun and between them shot the deceased a further few times as he lay on the veranda floor. A fourth man, the appellant’s brother Shane, then arrived at the scene but did not fire a shot. All four men then ran off behind the house and into the gardens of Trench Town School. It was Ms Minnott’s evidence, largely unchallenged, that she had known the appellant, his mother and his brother, Shane, for some years.
The appellant’s grounds of appeal were that the police had failed to hold an identification parade in the case and secondly the appellant was wrongly denied the benefit of a good character direction.
The Board observed that Ms Minnott knew not only the appellant but also his mother and his brother as well and it could hardly be thought that she was mistaken in her recognition of all three of them as having been present on the day in question. By the time she came to point out the appellant in the dock at trial she had already told the police precisely who he was, had seen and identified him at the preliminary inquiry, and had given the jury her full account of the killing and the events leading up to it, naming the appellant throughout as Peter Stewart. Thus it would have been pointless to hold an identification parade.
The fact that the appellant was of good character only emerged when his antecedent report was read at the subsequent sentencing hearing. The Board held that given that good character had not been raised by the defence at trial, clearly the judge could not be criticised for not giving the direction: Thompson v The Queen  AC 811, Barrow v The State  AC 846. In the present case, for example, had the credibility direction been given, it would have been appropriate to balance it with a full direction about the weight to be accorded to unsworn statements – DPP v Walker  1 WLR 1090. Counsel for the appellant submitted that the lack of a good character direction in the present case was particularly unfortunate because of what Ms Minnott had said about the appellant’s family being “known by the policemen who live in the area and work in the area” (enabling them to discover his surname). He suggested that the jury might have inferred from that that the appellant was in fact a man of bad character. But the Board held that there was an overwhelmingly strong recognition case and no one had ever suggested any reason why Ms Minnott should want to identify the appellant as the killer if in truth it was someone else. The jury had ample opportunity to decide on Ms Minnott’s credibility and reliability from her lengthy evidence in the witness box. In the Board’s view even if a full character direction had been given, the jury would inevitably still have convicted the appellant. The Board thus held that the appeal should be dismissed.