Today, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) handed down judgment in Ray Morgan v the King (Jamaica). After a significant delay of ten years in filing Mr Morgan’s appeal, producing a transcript of his trial and holding his said appeal, the JCPC described Mr Morgan’s case in their judgment as a “serious miscarriage of justice”.
Mr Morgan was detained for ten years whilst seeking to reduce his sentence to three years. When preparing his appeal, Mr Morgan provided all relevant documents to the prison authorities to file. However, in error the prison authorities sent these documents to the wrong court. It took 10 years for his case to be heard by the Court of Appeal, by which time Mr Morgan had been released, having served his sentence in its entirety. The Privy Council agreed that Mr Morgan was “let down by the prison authorities” in failing to file his appeal correctly and through “…the inordinate time that passed” before Mr Morgan was informed of the mistake.
Decision of the Board
The Board unanimously allowed Mr Morgan’s appeal, finding “…that a serious miscarriage of justice [had] occurred”. His appeal against sentence had merit and he had done everything reasonably possible to file his grounds of appeal in good time. The Board rejected that any failure by the State to process an appeal should mean that an appeal is not heard.
Disagreeing with the Court of Appeal that there were no good reasons to determine Mr Morgan’s sentence, the Privy Council commented that “…it would offend the basic principles of fairness that failures by the justice system” meant that Mr Morgan’s appeal was not heard.
The Board ordered that Mr Morgan’s appeal against sentence be heard by the Court of Appeal in order to clarify the correct amount of time that he should have been in prison, if he had not been “deprived of his constitutional right.”
The Justices directed that when hearing Mr Morgan’s appeal against sentence, if a record of the trial could not be found “the Court of Appeal can only proceed on the basis of circumstances which are most favourable to [Mr Morgan].”
Seeking to avoid similar failures in the future, the Board clarified that there is a legal obligation on the State to have systems to ensure inmates can send their appeals to the courts, eliminating barriers which prevented access to justice.
Background to the Appeal
Ray Morgan was convicted, on 7 February 2011, of four counts of obtaining money by false pretenses. He was given four sentences, each of three years, to run consecutively. Mr Morgan subsequently filed an appeal against conviction and sentence, within the prescribed time for doing so. Mr Morgan argued that his sentence was too long, and his sentences should run concurrently not consecutively, which would have meant he would have had a three-year sentence, of which he would have served two years in prison.
Despite providing all relevant documents to launch his appeal, the prison authorities made grave error by sending the documents to the wrong court. This resulted in a delay of 10 years before Mr Morgan’s appeal was heard, during which time he complained about the lack of progress in his appeal.
The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Morgan’s appeal in April 2021. The court reasoned that, whilst his appeal seemed to have merit, Mr Morgan had effectively served his sentence. The record of his trial would be too onerous to obtain and therefore there would be little point in determining the appeal.
Commenting on the judgment Killian Moran, Senior Legal Officer of The Death Penalty Project said:
Today’s ruling promotes access to justice in Jamaica. This judgment has huge ramifications for prisoners who have had their appeals obstructed by administrative failings. Sadly, in Mr Morgan’s case, this judgment has come too late to reduce the time he spends in prison. The Death Penalty Project will continue to support Mr Morgan in obtaining justice for the years which he was improperly detained, through no fault of his own.
Notes to Editors
Link to Judgment
The judgment can be found on the Privy Council’s website here.
Delays to producing trial transcripts
When appealing a conviction or a sentence, trial courts have a duty to provide a transcript of their reasoning and the evidence heard. In its 2021 and 2022 Annual Reports the Jamaican Court of Appeal recognised that delays in producing transcripts were an issue to progressing appeals. The President of the Court of Appeal, Brooks P, observed in the 2021 Annual report that due to the delay in providing transcripts “….appellants…in criminal cases had been released from prison, despite the fact that their appeals had not been heard.” In 2020, approximately 10% of the prison population in Jamaica were awaiting a transcript to progress an appeal. This had reduced to approximately 5% of the prison population by 2022.
The Legal Team
The appellant was represented by Terrence F. Williams, John Clarke and Celine Dedrick of the Bar of Jamaica, instructed by The Death Penalty Project (UK).
The Death Penalty Project
The Death Penalty Project (DPP) is a legal action NGO, based at Simons Muirhead Burton LLP, with special consultative status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council. For more than three decades, the DPP has worked to protect the rights of those facing the death penalty.
For interview requests, quotes or more information please contact The Death Penalty Project’s press team, [email protected]