The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Thursday last (May 4, 2017) upheld arguments made by attorney- at-law, Sanjeev Datadin, on behalf of Vishnu Bridgelall and stayed all orders of imprisonment made against Bridgelall.
In May 2007, Bridgelall and others were charged with trafficking in approximately 106 kg of cocaine. Bridgelall along with Chandrika Chattergoon, called Percy; Thakoor Persaud and Azad Khan were found by Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) at a house at Coverden, East Coast Demerara at which there was the quantity of cocaine and fish glue. The State contended that Bridgelall and the three other men were trafficking in cocaine and using the fish-glue business as a guise for their narcotic business.
In 2007 Bridgelall was convicted at the Vigilance Magistrate’s Court; one person Chattergoon pleaded guilty and the other two accused were freed. The Magistrate sentenced Bridgelall to two consecutive five year sentences and a fine of GY $254 million. Bridgelall then appealed to the Full Court of the High Court which heard his appeal in 2009 and in December 2009 the Full Court set aside Bridgelall’s conviction. The State appealed the decision of the Full Court to the Court of Appeal which in October 2016 reversed the decision of the Full Court and restored the Magistrate’s sentence against Bridgelall.
Bridgelall represented by Attorneys-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin and Ryan Crawford challenged the convictions that had been restored by the Court of Appeal. Additionally lawyers for Bridgelall argued that the excessive and undue delay in the hearing of the appeal by the Court of Appeal was a violation of Article 144 of the Guyana Constitution that guarantees a fair trial within a reasonable time. The CCJ rejected the contention by the Director of Public Prosecutions that the delay was due to the complexity of the matter and the Court having to deal with other matters. The CCJ ruled that it was entitled to examine the circumstances of the delay in the determination of Bridgelall’s Appeal by the Court of Appeal and found that the delay was inexcusable and a violation of Bridgelall’s Constitutional Rights.
The CCJ ruled that Bridgelall’s conviction by the Magistrate was safe and would be restored. However, it ruled that all orders made with respect to the imprisonment of Bridgelall would be stayed. This means that Bridgelall will serve no further time in prison.
According to a senior judicial officer “the decision represents a landmark constitutional ruling” and would mean that “the criminal justice system cannot now seek to make excuses in disposing of appeals”.
The CCJ, in addition to upholding the convictions and staying the orders for imprisonment ruled it was incorrect that the sentence against Bridelall run consecutively and ordered it should have been made to run concurrently.