The chances of an early release from jail have been blown away for the four persons convicted of arson in the L’Amicale de Port Louis case. The Privy Council has set aside their appeal. As such, the four convicts will have to wait until 19 January 2019 for their release.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) consisting of Law Lords Mance, Kerr, Wilson, Hughes and Hodge, has on Monday set aside the appeal lodged by Sheik Imram and his brother Khalleloudeen Sumodhee and Abdool Naseeb Keeramuth, who have been sentenced to life imprisonment (45 years penal servitude) for their involvement in the arson at L'Amicale de Port Louis gaming house on 23 May 1999, which caused the death of seven persons. The fourth convicted person, Muhammad Shafiq Nawoor, did not appeal, but it was understood that any successful outcome of the appeal would apply to him also.
The seven victims of the arson were: Yeh Ling Lai Yau Tim (35) and her two daughters, Catherine (6), Eugénie Louise (2 years), and Jean-Noël Law Wing (34), Mohamed Fawzee Abdool Hakim (42) and Babooram Luckoo (69) and Jeanette Ramboro (26), who was expecting a baby.
Following this Privy Council's decision, the four prisoners will continue serving their remaining sentence inflicted by the Assizes Court on 20 November 2000 and will be released from prison on 19 January 2019. It should be noted that after their appeal had been rejected by the Appeal Court of Mauritius, the four prisoners have applied to the Commission for the Prerogative of Mercy. The latter recommended the President of the Republic for a reduction of their respective sentence. Thus, their prison sentence of 30 years has been reduced to a term of imprisonment of 20 years. Taking into consideration the period they were on remand, the Commission for the Prerogative of Mercy recommended that they serve 18 years' imprisonment. On 12 Mars 2017, each prisoner received an additional two months’ remission.
Rejecting the appeal, the Law Lords underlined the duty of Counsels and their clients towards the Court. The Bench conceded that the audio recording forms an integral part of the Court record, but nevertheless, pinpointed that these registrations are not absolute in law. For the Privy Council, the Constitution, the country’s supreme legislation, takes precedence over statutory laws. Hence, the audio or numerical recording must necessary form part of the Court record and any person found guilty and convicted by a court of law can have access to these documents against payment of a fee.
It is for this reason the Law Lords have listened to the audio recording of the summing up of the Presiding Judge, former Justice Paul Lam Shang Leen. The Privy Council has afterward concluded that there is nothing inflammatory or incendiary in the words used by the then Judge of the Supreme Court which can be prejudicial to the constitutional rights of the four accused parties to a fair trial.
For the Law Lords, the Court can refuse a demand to have access to the audio recordings, if it is not warranted. Amongst the points that have emerged from this judgment:
- Counsels have a duty towards their clients, but their priority is towards the Court.
- A Counsel can appeal on grounds which are reasonably debatable and justified.
- The duty of a Counsel towards the Court is to help and enable the latter to treat cases which are appropriate and justified to be entertained for the smooth running of justice.
- Being given that an appeal before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the ultimate recourse, Counsels should abstain from appealing on grounds that are weak and not debatable.
The three appellants were represented by a panel of Counsels comprising of Messrs Robin Ramburn, Senior Counsel, Rama Valayden, Shaukatally Oozeer, Naushad Malleck, Shameer Hussenboccus, Zaynab Mirasahib, instructed by Attorney Mr Ibrahim Omar Bahemia.
The State of Mauritius was represented by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Satyajit Boolell, Senior Counsel, assisted by Mrs Sulakshna Beeharry-Sunassee and Mr Medaven Armoogum from the State Law Office.
Wife claims her husband is innocent
Rozina, wife of Khaleeloudeen Sumodhee, was 26 years old when her husband was convicted in the arson case. This prompted her to take up employment in the Public Service. But very soon, she decided to work on her own in order to cater for her sons and to carry on an unremitting struggle against the sentence inflicted on her husband and the other convicts. Rozina Sumodhee would have liked Khaleeloudeen to regain his freedom. However, the Privy Council’s judgement does not put into question her profound conviction that the four convicts are innocent. “I did not expect much. Life goes on. We trust divine justice,” she said. Rozina Sumodhee points out that it is 18 years to the day (this Tuesday, May 23, 2017) that the gambling house L’Amicale caught fire. “But it is a pity that we have not been able to find the real culprits all this time,” lamented the wife of Khaleeloudeen.
Me Satyajit Boolell, Senior Counsel: “I’m satisfied”
The Director of Public Prosecutions is “satisfied” with the judgment. “I am satisfied with the judgment which has now put an end to the lawsuit brought against the four convicts of the gaming house L’Amicale on 23 May 1999. We should not forget that the incident claimed the lives of seven people, including two children and their babysitter who was seven months pregnant.” Meanwhile, DPP Boolell said the Law Lords argued that the four convicts had a fair trial. According to the DPP, they also argued that former judge Paul Lam Shang Leen was “fair” when he presented his summary to the parties before the Assizes Court. Accordingly, the DPP states that an accused person has the right to apply for the recording of his or her trial if he or she considers that there has been any wrongdoing. However, the application must be justified in court.
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