UK court rules against closed-door legal hearing

| 03/03/2023 | 23 Comments
Cayman News Service
Justin Ramoon (far left) and Osbourne Douglas escorted by prison officers as the court visits the scene of Jason Powery’s murder in 2016

(CNS): Two Caymanian prisoners serving life sentences for murder have won an important legal victory in a fight to serve their sentences at HMP Northward after being transferred without notice to high-security prisons in the UK. The Judicial Committee of the UK’s Privy Council (JCPC), after a historic sitting in the Cayman Islands, has ruled that the case must go back to the Grand Court as the courts here have no authority to hold a closed-door hearing that excluded brothers, Justin Ramoon and Osbourne Douglas, preventing them from challenging the reasons for their enforced transfer.

Lawyers representing the brothers in this complex case have been battling for some six years to secure a fair hearing about their transfer to Britain, where they have no ties and have been separated from their families here in the Cayman Islands, including their children. Although they began serving their time in Britain in the same prison, they have since been separated and are in jails hundreds of miles apart.

Throughout the case, the Cayman authorities have refused to share with the brothers or their attorneys the details of the intelligence that they claim supported the decision for them to be moved.

They have broadly stated that they have information that the men remain criminally active from behind bars as members of a gang, directing murders and gun smuggling, as well as planning an escape. But the authorities have consistently refused to disclose the relevant evidence supporting the allegations, claiming that it would undermine national security to do so, thereby preventing their lawyers from refuting it.

This important ruling by the JCPC, which is the highest appeal court for the UK territories, makes it clear that the Cayman Islands Government authorities cannot hold such Closed Material Procedures (CMPs), the definition of the hearing that was adopted in this case. The finding paves the way for the brothers’ judicial review of the transfer to be reheard after the lawyers successfully argued that there was no legal basis in the Cayman Islands for the courts to hold a CMP, making the resulting proceedings inherently unfair.

Explaining their support for the brother’s argument on that point, the JCPC summed up the position. “It is simply not open to [the courts] to invent a CMP for the Cayman Islands under the guise of the development of the common law,” the committee stated in its ruling. “This would be considerably more than an incremental development; it would be a major change involving an inroad into fundamental common law rights.”

The judges explained that due to the inherent unfairness of CMPs to individuals, parliament is better placed to “assess the policy considerations relating to the necessity for such a procedure… and to make detailed procedural rules to regulate the procedure”.

Dismissing the CIG’s request to strike out the claim, the JCPC held that the claim should now proceed to trial solely on the basis of the material that the respondents (the governor of the Cayman Islands and the director of prisons) are willing to disclose.

Local defence attorney Prathna Bodden of Samson Law, who represents Ramoon and who has spearheaded the fight for a fair hearing, said it was a significant development in his long-running challenge to his transfer to the UK. “We welcome the Privy Council’s ruling that the government cannot hold secret hearings without express authority,” she said. “This is a victory for open justice and fairness in the courts of the Cayman Islands.”

Saul Lehrfreund from the Death Penalty Project, an organisation that partnered with Samson Law in this case, added that this decision would create a fairer and more transparent justice system. “The Privy Council’s ruling that CMPs cannot take place without proper guidelines and defined procedure upholds important fair trial rights. Excluding individuals from trials should only ever be a last resort,” he said.

The organisation provides free legal representation and assistance not just to those facing the death penalty but other vulnerable prisoners and seeks to improve the law by creating lasting legal precedents.

Ramoon and his brother were convicted of killing Jason Powery in a gang-related shooting outside a George Town bar in 2015 after a judge-alone trial presided over by the late Justice Charles Quin. They were sentenced to more than 30 years in jail. But in 2017, just months into their sentences, the brothers were shipped, without notice and in weeks of each other, to a UK jail. In those six years they have been allowed one visit from family members after the CIG financed a trip in 2019.

While the brothers are now expected to get a new hearing, it does not mean that thier application to return to the Cayman Islands will succeed but they will be given a fair chance to argue their case.

They are not the only prisoners that were transferred under the 19th century law. Elmer Wright (26), who is serving a minimum sentence of 21 years in connection with a violent home invasion, was transferred to the UK in 2020. Wright is also considered a high-risk prisoner, but so far, he has not challenged his transfer from Cayman.

See the full ruling here.

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Category: Courts, Crime

Comments (23)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Is this the same U.K. That bundled up their criminals and sent them off to Australia back in the day? How things have changed.

  2. Anonymous says:

    We need a Michael Corleone to sort this whole issue out once and for all. Nothing personal, boys, just business.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So the important takeaway is that the CIG/Parliament need to consider legislation for these fancy closed hearings if they want to be able to have them like the UK & US do.

    actually, an even simpler process would be if the UK were to agree to let us (all OTs) try these closed hearings in the UK under the UK’s closed hearing rules. One set of rules for everyone makes it easier to keep everyone’s rules up to date. Especially for these kind of rules which we hopefully continue to need less than once in a blue moon.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Cayman has enough criminal problems as it is; at least with these two in maximum security far away in the UK, we have one less (or two less) criminal disasters to worry about. Please, do not bring them back.

    These were born and bred in the criminal lifestyle and that mentality does not just go away after getting locked away for murder.

    In fact, if they do get what they are begging the court for right now it will “swell their heads” more and cement their belief that they’re the “baddest, bad man out dey” after winning a case against the Government.

  5. Anonymous says:

    These demons are guilty of other murders that they will never be prosecuted for. They were planning further crimes while in HMP Northward. Using their family members and other minions who were not locked up. It was vital to remove them from their support systems to prevent further loss of life. Their children are better off without them. As is the Caymanian community as a whole. May they never return.

    • Anonymous says:

      Human rights over human wrongs.

      • An0n says:

        This is an interesting situation, because, on paper I agree with your position. However, if they were in fact orchestrating the alleged things while behind bars, then that potentially infringes on the human rights of others.

        What then?

        Which human rights are more important, right to family or right to life? Is there a threshold or a test? Not saying you have the answer, just random musings.


  6. Anonymous says:

    Can’t believe the Cayman Govt would finance a trip for family members to go visit them in UK. Wasting our money. That’s a crime!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I read the judgment the government won on the main points. Well done all.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The British justice system is deeply flawed. It is run by judges that live in ivory towers with no experience of living on sink estates. The decisions they make are skewed in favour of the criminals rather than having any consideration for the victims.

  9. Sad world says:

    Funny they need family time and want to see his young son. Yet the victim family have nothing but a head stone to visit. Not just cayman but world over criminals are having more rights than the victims and there family. Sad time for sure. The gov should just chnage the law and state any person convicted of murder and get life be sent direct on BA to UK. Is pointless here at our prison its like club med. And everyone knows that. Just look at how many come out Monday and back by fri only to get out when the law cant even convict most the time.

  10. Anonymous says:

    jesus loves the sinner..hates the sin!…he also love children born out of wedlock! yes…i talking to you hypocrites! study your bible..not just certain parts!

  11. Anonymous says:

    So you take someone’s life and expect to be treated fairly. You are alive and well and the other person rotting in the ground and you are worried about being miles apart. Wow. You do something of that caliber and want people to feel sorry for you and work on your behalf to get you “home”, well we are BOTC so thats your “home” as well. serve your time and think about what you done. they have technology to connect with family now a days.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Watch them walk free.

    • Anonymous says:

      You need to go to comprehension prison. Their sentences are not in any doubt, just where they spend their leisure time for the next 30 years.

      As long as it’s unpleasant, I’m not too fussed.

    • Anonymous says:

      Probably break free, but won’t be walking!

  13. Anonymous says:

    again…one for the people…good job ukpc….Government need stop their …….

  14. Anonymous says:

    Closed material procedures would be a disaster for Cayman. Well done to the legal team. This is more than bringing convicted criminals back. I hope people realize this. Let’s hope the brothers have a fair hearing and then stay in the uk if that is what is required for National security.

  15. Anonymous says:

    But hear ya again! THEM OR THEIR FAMILIES SHOULD HAVE TO FOOT THE BILLS FOR THESE PRECEEDINGS. I, as a member of Jason’s family – do not want them back here where they will have access to cell phones and make threats in HM – Northward Prison!

    • Anonymous says:

      Its a crying shame the Government made tax payers pay for their family trip to UK to visit them.


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