Jagdeo Singh walks free
The jailing of a lawyer
By FRANCIS JOSEPH
IT DOES not happen often. Once an appeal is compelling enough, the judges of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council do not waste time.
So said, so done with Jagdeo Singh’s appeal on Thursday. The five-member Board retired for just 15 minutes, returned and allowed Singh’s appeal.
Conviction and sentence quashed, no retrial.
It was the same thing in December 1995 (a cold time in London) when Dole Chadee’s constitutional mo-tion on prejudicial pre-trial publicity was thrown out on the second day of the three-day hearing.
The Law Lords retired, returned quickly and dismissed Chadee’s appeal. They did not reserve, nor did they have a written judgment at the time.
Several lawyers have been to jail over the last ten years, but none so high-profile as Singh. He was an active member of the UNC St Joseph Constituency, residing in Maracas/St Joseph.
He was a member of the Plipdeco Board of Directors, he was in chambers with Seenath Jairam SC and others.
He had a thriving legal career and was a successful attorney at the time of his arrest.
While in prison, Singh’s daughter Priya was born. Two weeks ago, his sister died of cancer in New York.
On October 1, 1999, Rudolph "Horseman" John, a client of Singh’s, was charged for possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.
Two other men were charged.
On October 2, Sherry Ann Basdeo, John’s common-law wife, approached Singh and asked him to represent her husband in the matter. Singh agreed and fixed his fee at $50,000.
Singh had previously represented John at a preliminary inquiry into another charge and John was committed to stand trial at the Assizes. For that matter, Singh quoted a fee of $150,000 and Basdeo paid him $10,000 and $2,500.
On October 11, Singh went to the chambers of Magistrate Deborah Thomas-Felix, the magistrate before whom John would appear that day on the trafficking charge, and asked if his client would be granted bail.
She told him that since his client had several charges pending, unless circumstances changed, he would have to seek bail before a judge in chambers. Singh replied that he would take his chances at the Magistrates’ Court. Bail was denied.
On November 1, Singh appeared before the same magistrate. He represented the three accused in the matter but made no application for bail for his own client. Bail was granted to the two other accused.
On November 11, Singh met Basdeo at the Magistrates’ Court at Nipdec House. He told her that in order for her husband to be granted bail, she would have to pay $40,000 as an inducement to Thomas-Felix to grant bail and for the court prosecutor Sgt Claudette Bynoe to offer no objections to the bail. Singh made repeated requests of Basdeo for the money.
On November 18, Derek Perpignac (the man with the four names), whose wife was on friendly terms with Basdeo, visited Thomas-Felix at her home and spoke with her. The magistrate then contacted Senior Supt Wellington Virgil of the Fraud Squad.
The following day, Singh appeared at the door of the magistrate’s chambers. He asked her not to fix bail because he had not received his fees.
She asked, "You have not received your fees?" He replied, "no." She said, "no problem."
Virgil arranged a sting operation involving WPC Lystra Bridgelal and Basdeo.
On November 30, Bridgelal and Basdeo visited Singh’s office. Bridgelal posed as Debbie, the wife of a friend of John, and the person who was trying to raise the $40,000. She told Singh she wanted to be sure the money was to be used to take John’s bail and she appreciated that Singh was trying to get bail for John.
She asked Singh how long after she paid the $40,000 that John would get bail. He said all the arrangements for bail were made and he needed to have the money at least one day before the matter came up for hearing. Singh also told Debbie that if John did not get bail, he would return the money to her.
On December 1, Singh ap-peared for John and sought an adjournment to December 3. He whispered to the magistrate that he would make an application for bail on that day because he would be getting his fees.
The following day, Virgil gave Bridgelal the $40,000 in a white plastic bag, having obtained the money from OCNU. Virgil made a list of the serial numbers on the bills. Sometime later, Bridgelal, WPC Kathleen Nanton and other members of OCNU took up positions at the KFC outlet at Curepe where Singh agreed to meet Basdeo.
Singh arrived at the KFC outlet. Basdeo and Debbie were seated inside. Singh called Basdeo on her cell phone and spoke to her. He made a second call to Debbie, asking her what was taking so long. He refused to go inside the restaurant for the money. He told Debbie to come outside with the money.
Basdeo and Debbie eventually ap-proached Singh in his car. Debbie handed him the money. Basdeo asked him if everything will be all right. He said, "Yes, everything would be okay." Police then converged on the car.
Singh cried, "Is money, is money!"
Virgil arrested Singh and took him to the Fraud Squad office in Port-of-Spain where the suspect was told of the report. Singh replied that the $40,000 was his fee.
Singh, who was called to the Bar in 1989, was charged with three counts. But he was found guilty before Justice Stanley John on two counts and sentenced to seven years in jail:
1) Between October 1 and December 3, 1999, he corruptly solicited for himself the sum of $40,000 from Shirley Basdeo as an inducement to Magistrate Deborah Thomas-Felix to grant bail to Rudolph John, and as an inducement to Police Prosecutor, Sgt Claudette Bynoe to forbear to object to the granting of bail to John, contrary to section 3 (1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, No 11 of 1987.
2) On December 2, 1999, he corruptly received for himself the sum of $40,000 from Basdeo and Woman Police Constable Lystra Bridgelal as an inducement, contrary to section 3 (1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act No 11 of 1987.
Singh appealed, but the Court of Appeal comprising Chief Justice Sat Sharma, Justice Roger Hamel-Smith, and Justice Lionel Jones, dismissed the appeal on November 29, 2001. He then appealed to the Privy Council.
Singh’s attorneys relied on two grounds.
English Queen’s Counsel Edward Fitzgerald, who represented Singh at the Privy Council, said on Wednesday that the State rightly conceded at the appeal hearing, and the Court of Appeal rightly held, that the judge’s directions were defective in that the judge failed to give a direction that Singh’s good character must be taken into account on the crucial issue of credibility.
He contended that the State sought to assert at the special leave hearing on October 2, 2003, that there was nothing wrong with the directions. He submitted that this assertion was untenable on the part of the State and that it was inappropriate for them to reopen this issue at this stage of the proceedings.
Fitzgerald also argued that the Court of Appeal was wrong to apply the proviso for two reasons:
(1) Firstly, as a matter of principle, a failure to direct the jury on the importance of good character in respect of credibility represents a serious failure in any case where credibility is the issue. This, he added, restricts the discretion to uphold the conviction by application of the proviso to extreme and exceptional cases.
(2) Secondly, on the facts, the Court of Appeal’s analysis was flawed and the whole approach of reconstructing what the jury must have found was in conflict with the correct approach laid down by the House of Lords in 2002.
Fitzgerald said it appeared that the court reached its conclusions without any reference to the notes of evidence which were not before them.
Fitzgerald also submitted that the Court of Appeal erred in its construction of section 3 (1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
According to the written submissions of the English QC, "it was common ground between the State and the appellant, that the appellant never suggested or offered a bribe to the magistrate and/or the prosecutor. Indeed, it is the appellant’s case that it was conceded by the State at the trial that he never had any intention to offer a bribe to either of them."
Fitzgerald said the trial judge and the Court of Appeal relied on English and Welsh authorities to hold that "corruptly" means doing an act which the law forbids, in this case soliciting and receiving money from Basdeo, having induced her to believe that, in doing so, she would be entering into a corrupt arrangement with the magistrate and the prosecutor.
According to Fitzgerald, the intention of the TT Parliament was to deter persons from bribing or attempting to bribe the agents of the State. In this case, Queen’s Counsel pointed out that there was never any intention by Singh to bribe anyone.
On Thursday, the case was all over and Singh was released from the Maximum Security Prison at 7.05 pm. Prakash Ramadhar, a close friend of Singh’s who was en route from Miami at the time of the release, wants Singh to resume his legal career this week. How? We will just have to wait and see.
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