Kingstown Magistrate John Ballah will decide on Dec. 13, whether educator Adriana King should be made to answer a charge brought against her in 2021, which alleged that she blocked Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ access to Parliament.
On Wednesday, when the matter came up in court for yet another time, Prosecutor Inspector Renrick Cato asked for an amendment to the charge, the third since it was brought in August 2021.
Before Cato asked the court to amend the charge, lead defence counsel, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste had informed the magistrate that she would apply to have Gonsalves as well as acting Commissioner of Police Enville Williams summoned as witnesses, if the prosecutor did not intend to call them.
Bacchus-Baptiste said this was based on the charge, adding that the court might need to set aside a special date when Gonsalves and Williams could be present so as to complete the trial in one day.
The lawyer said the prosecution had indicated that it intends to call three witnesses, and she commented that it makes no sense to start the trial and not complete it the same day.
Cato then informed the court that the prosecution would not be calling Gonsalves or the acting police chief.
“If the court sees it fit to grant the application, I am asking that it can be put on a Wednesday because that is traffic court and I would be available on a Wednesday,” said Cato, who usually prosecutes at the Serious Offences Court.
Bacchus-Baptiste commented that based on the disclosure, the prosecution was only relying on one witness.
She then told the court that she was not one hundred per cent and was battling a stomach flu but had come prepared to proceed with the matter but had no objection to the prosecution seeking an adjournment.
“Clearly, this is a political matter and I don’t understand how the prosecutor can do the case without calling the prime minister,” the lawyer said.
She told the court that she would also need a copy of the charge, adding that she was not sure what the charge was.
“What was served on her –” the defence counsel was saying when the magistrate informed her that some changes had been made to the charge.
The magistrate then began to read the charge that was before the court, when Cato stood and made an application under Section 132 of the Criminal Code to amend the charge.
“Oh! Another amendment?” Bacchus-Baptiste said.
Cato then asked the court to amend the charge to read that on Aug. 5, 2021, King, “being a stranger, with intent to commit an offence, with intent to obstruct Mr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a member of the House of Assembly from coming to the precincts of the House of Assembly did an act which was more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence”.
Bacchus-Baptiste then pointed out to the court that it was Oct 25, 2023 and her client has been on half pay since the charge was laid, and two years later the prosecution was asking for “a third amendment to this political charge”.
The magistrate then said:
“Can I ask you a question? And both of you can give some guidance. What is the maximum sentence?”
Bacchus-Baptiste said it is a fine of EC$1,500 and imprisonment for six months.
The magistrate then asked, “What do the guidelines say on this matter being before the court this long?”
The defence counsel said the guidelines say that six months is the outside limit by which such a charge should be disposed of.
“It is an abuse of process to come two years later to bring this charge and it should be struck out for abuse of process and delay based on the guideline of the chief justice. And I am making that application this morning,” Bacchus-Baptiste said.
Cato, however, noted that there had been a number of adjournments, not at all of which had been the fault of the prosecution.
“Counsel sent a number of letters to this court asking for adjournments…” Cato said, noting that he had applied for an amendment to the charge based on a section of law that gives the prosecution that authority.
But Bacchus-Baptiste said she did not understand the prosecutor’s application, adding that the Court of Appeal has said that it does not matter the reason, such a matter should not be before the court for so long.
She said it has been two years since the protection brought the charge and was not ready to proceed, as evidenced by the fact that they had just applied for an amendment to the charge.
“The Court of Appeal has ruled that it matters not; these matters should be pushed through,” Bacchus-Baptiste said. “We are not talking about six months but about two years when the defendant is on half pay. A summary offence.”
Cato, however, said that the matter is before the court and the prosecution was relying on two witnesses, who were in court.
He said he had indicated to the court that the prosecution was ready to proceed.
But Bacchus-Baptiste countered:
“They cannot proceed, they have just made a significant amendment. They cannot proceed.”
She said that if the court did not strike out the matter she was asking for a copy of the amended charge.
“I am grateful that the court raised it on its own volition,” the defence counsel said.
Ballah ruled that the amendment changed the wording of the charge and would have caused some embarrassment to the defence if the amendment to the charge was granted and the trial was to proceed that day.
He noted that it was he who had raised the matter of how long the case was before the court.
But Bacchus-Baptiste pointed out that the magistrate had interrupted her while she was speaking, adding that she was getting to that point.
Ballah said the court was mindful that the matter is a summary one and has been for the court for a little while.
“To be fair to everybody, I would like some submissions from both sides as to why this matter should or should not be struck out. And I am going to give ample time because I know counsel is busy, the High Court is going on and the prosecutor does all the preliminary inquiries so I know he is busy. So I am going to give until Dec. 13,” he said, adding that he would give his ruling on that day, and the submissions should be sent to him two weeks before then.
“It is distressing to my client in this hard guava crop. I quite understand it. I know all that goes into these political charges. I would like a proper copy of the charge because I am still not sure what the charge is.”
Ballah said that on Dec. 13, if the court does not strike out the matter, a new date will be set for trial.