Court of Appeal Sitting
10th to 14th January 2022
Territory Of The Virgin Islands
In this corner we highlight the cases of interest for your reading pleasure
ATTORNEY GENERAL v ANTHONY HENRY AND FRANCIS NOEL – COURT OF APPEAL RULES ON
DETENTION OF ACCUSED PERSONS FOUND UNFIT TO PLEAD IN PRISON
On 10th November 2021, The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of Appeal (“The Court”) delivered a unanimous judgment in Attorney General v Anthony Henry and Francis Noel. The three-member panel which heard the appeal comprised Her Ladyship, The Hon. Dame Janice M. Pereira, DBE LL.D., Chief Justice, His Lordship, The Hon. Mr. Paul Webster, Justice of Appeal [Ag.] and His Lordship, The Hon. Mr. Brian Cottle, Justice of Appeal [Ag.]. The written judgment was delivered by the learned Chief Justice, with whom the other Justices of Appeal concurred.
Background to the Appeal
The respondents, Anthony Henry (“Mr. Henry”) and Francis Noel (“Mr. Noel”), were charged with criminal offences and found unfit to stand trial. Mr. Henry was detained in prison until he was discharged unconditionally by the Criminal Division of the High Court on 30th May 2019, having been detained for 24 years. Mr. Noel remained in prison at least up until the date of the judgment of the court below, having been detained therefore for at least 32 years. From 2003 onwards, the respondents were examined by psychiatrists and diagnosed with serious mental illnesses on several occasions. Both respondents were never admitted to any mental health facility and remained in prison for the entire period of their detention pending recovery of their fitness to plead. The respondents brought claims in the court below seeking declaratory relief and compensation for breaches of their constitutional rights to personal liberty, protection from inhuman treatment and protection of law arising from the circumstances of their detention.
The judge in the court below granted the respondents’ claims and made declarations to the effect that the State’s detention of the respondents in prison as opposed to a mental health facility after being found unfit to plead was in breach of their constitutional rights to personal liberty and to protection against inhuman and degrading treatment. The judge essentially considered that the respondents, having been found unfit to plead, ought to have been detained in a mental hospital and detaining them in a prison instead, amounted to a breach of their constitutional rights to personal liberty and to protection against inhuman and degrading treatment. The judge awarded damages to Mr. Noel and Mr. Henry in the sums of $5,031,500.00 and $3,526,000.00 respectively for the breaches of their rights to personal liberty, calculated at a rate of $500.00 per day.
The Attorney General appealed against the judge’s decision, contending that the findings that the respondents’ constitutional rights to personal liberty and protection against inhuman and degrading treatment were breached were wrong in law. The Attorney General also challenged the judge’s assessment of the damages awarded.
Reasons for Judgment
Among the issues considered by the Court was whether there exists a statutory requirement in Saint Lucia that persons who were found unfit to plead be detained in a mental hospital pending the recovery of their fitness to stand trial. The Court observed that both section 31 of the Mental Hospitals Act and section 1021(1) of the applicable Criminal Code authorised the detention of a person found unfit to plead. The former provision mandates that a person found unfit to plead prior to conviction is to be detained in a mental hospital while the latter provision gives the judge a discretion to determine the place of detention following a finding of unfitness to plead. Having construed the provisions, the Court was of the view that there is an inescapable logical conflict between the two provisions and therefore found that the later section 1021(1) of the Criminal Code impliedly repealed section 31 of the Mental Hospitals Act. The Court accordingly found that there is no statutory requirement in Saint Lucia for persons found unfit to plead to be detained in a mental hospital pending recovery of their fitness to plead and therefore, a judge has a broad discretion to determine the place and manner of detention of such persons.
The Court then considered whether the respondents being detained in prison, without periodic reviews, could amount to breaches of their constitutional rights to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment and personal liberty enshrined in the Constitution of Saint Lucia. The Court observed that detention of a person found unfit to plead in prison could not amount to inhuman and degrading treatment without more. In the circumstances, the Court was satisfied that there was no evidence from which a breach of the respondents’ rights to protection against inhuman and degrading treatment could reasonably have been found. The Court then examined whether the State’s failure to ensure periodic reviews of the respondents’ detention could result in a breach of the rights to liberty and protection from inhuman and degrading treatment. The evidence in this case showed that both respondents continued to suffer from serious mental illnesses at the time the judgment in the court below was delivered. The Court reasoned that no argument could therefore be made on the evidence that they would have been released whether on bail or otherwise had their detention been subject to periodic reviews. Accordingly, it was held that the State’s failure to conduct periodic reviews could not have amounted to a breach of the respondents’ rights to personal liberty and protection against inhuman and degrading treatment.
The Court however considered that the respondents’ rights to liberty were breached as the purpose of their detention had been overtaken by the fact that the periods of their detention exceeded the lawful custodial sentence which could have been imposed on them following a possible conviction, and a fair trial could no longer take place due to the passage of time. The Court observed that, although the relevant provisions of the Constitution of Saint Lucia and the Criminal Code authorised the detention of the respondents, these provisions did not vest the State with an unfettered right to detain the respondents.
Having regard to these findings and the extraordinary circumstances of the case, the Court allowed the Attorney General’s appeal in part and set aside the declarations made by the judge, except a declaration in relation to the respondents’ right to personal liberty which it varied to declare that the respondents’ detention in prison for periods which undermined their rights to protection of the law was in breach of their rights to personal liberty.
The Court then determined the appropriate redress to be granted in the circumstances of the case. The Court reasoned that there was no proper basis for which damages could have been awarded for the breaches of the respondents’ constitutional rights for the entire period of their detention and for the use of the daily rate applied by the judge. The awards of damages were therefore set aside. In carrying out the assessment of damages afresh, the Court considered it appropriate to award damages in the sums of $250,000.00 and $500,000.00 to Mr. Henry and Mr. Noel respectively for the breaches of their constitutional rights, in circumstances where there was no evidence of any actual loss of income or other losses suffered by them as a result of their detention. The Court was also of the view that it would no longer serve the interests of justice for the prosecution of the respondents to proceed and on this basis, granted a permanent stay of the criminal proceedings against them.
This summary is provided to assist in understanding the Court of Appeal’s decision. It does not form part of the reasons for the decision. The judgment of the Court of Appeal is the only authoritative document. The judgment is available on the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court’s website via the following link: Attorney General v Anthony Henry et al (eccourts.org)