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PRESS RELEASE: Privy Council overturns murder and armed robbery convictions in 2015 joint enterprise trial in The Bahamas

  • News
  • 11 Jun 2024

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has unanimously allowed an appeal from The Bahamas, quashing Anton Bastian’s conviction for murder and armed robbery. Following a hearing on 15 April 2024, the Privy Council found that the evidence relied upon at trial was “…so tenuous as to be incapable of supporting a safe conviction for murder.The Board ruled that Anton cannot be re-tried for murder a second time, given the weakness of the evidence.

Anton had been tried alongside four other men for murder and armed robbery. In their judgment, the Privy Council warned of the difficulties of charging defendants jointly. Acknowledging that this was a complex trial, the Board found that the jury would have benefited from greater clarity in the legal directions given by the judge on the principles of joint responsibility. The Board has recommended that judges in The Bahamas provide written guidance to juries for complex legal tests.

Background

On 12 May 2013, a group of young men were alleged to have been involved in the theft of handbags being carried by two women outside a bar in Nassau in The Bahamas. The bags were taken by two men, including Anton, who then fled the scene. Anton was unarmed, and only 19 years old at the time. Another man in the group, Craig Johnson, became involved in an altercation with a bystander, Mr Kyle Bruner. During the course of that altercation Craig produced a gun and shot Mr Bruner dead. Anton handed himself in to the police the next day, when he became aware he was being sought for questioning.

At trial, the prosecution’s case was that the group of men had a joint plan to rob handbags and therefore must have had a joint plan to use violence to do so, regardless of who pulled the trigger. This case rested on showing that all members of the group were aware that one of the group possessed a gun.

The only evidence that Anton had prior knowledge of the gun used in the robbery was a statement made to police officers the day after the shooting. It was alleged that Anton told them it was Craig who had “the gun” and had shot the victim, but Anton denied saying this to the police. Anton told the court that during police interviews a plastic bag had been placed over his head by police officers, and he had been punched, kicked and threatened with death. He also told the court that he had also been placed in a “bloody” body bag. His formal police interview was later excluded due to oppression and police brutality:

Anton and two others, including Craig Johnson, were convicted of murder and armed robbery on 3 November 2015. The driver of the vehicle was acquitted of murder and armed robbery, and instead convicted of the lesser crime of robbery. Anton was sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment on the charge of murder, and 12 years on the charges of armed robbery.

The Judgment

Quashing Anton’s conviction, the Privy Council suggested that the trial judge in 2015 should have dismissed the murder charge as there was insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to be sure that Anton had prior knowledge of the gun. The prosecution’s case at trial rested on showing Anton knew that his co-defendant, Craig Johnson, was in possession of a gun. If Anton had prior knowledge of the gun, he might have shared an intention for the gun to be used during the robbery.

Notwithstanding the police brutality, the trial judge then told the jury that the statements made by Anton to the police meant that he had prior knowledge of the gun. The Privy Council noted that “the judge was not entitled to make any such assumption”. The trial judge should have directed the jury as to the need to determine precisely when Anton became aware that Craig had a gun and whether there was an agreement to use lethal force. The failure to do this was a serious deficiency in the case and rendered Anton’s convictions unsafe.

Anton’s conviction for murder has now been quashed and the case has been remitted back to the Court of Appeal of The Bahamas to decide whether there should be a retrial for manslaughter. The Privy Council substituted Anton’s conviction of armed robbery for a conviction of robbery. The Court of Appeal of The Bahamas will decide the appropriate sentence for his conviction of robbery.

Commenting on the judgment Killian Moran, Senior Legal Officer at The Death Penalty Project said

In Anton’s case, flawed and unclear instructions to the jury resulted in a miscarriage of justice. This judgment underscores the need for greater care on the part of prosecutors and judges when offences are said to have been committed by a group. The doctrine of joint enterprise allows members of groups, sharing a common intention, to be charged with the same offence. It must not be used to encourage jurors to return guilty verdicts, for serious offences, based on weak evidence and speculation.

Notes to editors

The Death Penalty Project

The Death Penalty Project (DPP) is a legal action NGO based at, and supported by, London legal firm, Simons Muirhead Burton LLP. The organisation has special consultative status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council. DPP provides free representation to people facing the death penalty worldwide. It uses the law to protect prisoners facing execution and promote fair criminal justice systems, where the rights of all people are respected.

The Legal Team

Anton was represented by Philip Rule KC and Daniel Henderson of No5 Chambers (UK) and Ryszard Humes of Munroe and Associates (The Bahamas), instructed by The Death Penalty Project at Simons Muirhead Burton LLP.

The Privy Council

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, or ‘The Privy Council’, is the final court of appeal for the UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and for those Commonwealth countries that have retained the appeal to His Majesty in Council or, in the case of Republics, to the Judicial Committee. Sitting at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the Privy Council is formed of the Justices of the UK Supreme Court, and presides over criminal, constitutional and civil appeals of the States and Overseas Territories which appeal to The Privy Council.

The Privy Council judgment 

See the judgment here for Anton Bastian v The King.

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