Vybz Kartel Wins Privy Council Appeal: Conviction Overturned, Retrial To Be Determined

Vybz Kartel (photo released in 2020)

Dancehall artists Adidja ‘Vybz Kartel’ Palmer, Shawn ‘Storm’ Campbell, and two other men had their convictions overturned by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London due to juror misconduct during their trial in Jamaica.

The Privy Council’s decision, announced on Thursday (March 14), sends the matter back to Jamaica’s Court of Appeal, which will determine whether a retrial should be held.

The artists—along with Kahira Jones and Andre ‘Mad Suss’ St. John—have served 12 and half years in prison for the murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams.

Prosecutors had relied on cellphone records and testimony from Lamar “Wee” Chow, the sole eyewitness, who said that Lizard was killed at Kartel’s home in Havendale, St Andrew, in August 2011. After a 64-day trial in the Kingston Home Circuit Court, the longest in Jamaica’s history, the men were sentenced to life in prison in April 2014. Subsequently, in April 2020, the Jamaica Court Of Appeal upheld the conviction but reduced their parole eligibility by two and a half years each.

They were then allowed to appeal to the UK-based Privy Council on the grounds that crucial cellular evidence was improperly obtained, that the jury was tainted after a bribery attempt and that the original trial judge, Justice Lennox Campbell, placed undue pressure on the jury to reach a verdict. This final appeal was heard on February 14 and 15.

On Thursday, the Privy Council judges—Lord Reed, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Briggs, Lord Burrows, and Lady Simler—were unanimous in deciding that the appeal should be allowed and that the conviction was unsafe and should be squashed.

The judges, who arrived at their decision solely on the issue of jury misconduct, did not express a view on the evidence improperly obtained or whether undue pressure was placed on the jury.

They were critical of how the original trial judge handled the jury tampering issues, including the continuation of the trial with a corrupt juror and insufficient action to mitigate potential biases.

Early in the trial, a female juror was discharged after she expressed fear for her son, who was, at the time, being held in the same prison as the defendants.  Later, the judge became aware that another juror, Livingston Caine (Juror X), had attempted to offer a bribe to the jury forewoman and other jurors. However, the judge did not discharge Caine, who was later found guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

In Jamaica, the Jury Act requires at least 11 jurors for a properly constituted jury in a murder trial. So, discharging Caine would have meant that the trial could not continue with just 10 jurors.

In its judgment, the Privy Council found that the judge’s inaction ultimately undermined the fairness of the trial. “First, the direction to the jury on the final day was inadequate to save the situation. The judge simply reminded the jury that they had sworn or affirmed that they would return verdicts in accordance with the evidence they had heard in court. The judge did not refer to the alleged bribery, of which, if the allegations were true, the jurors were already aware.”

The judges continued: “Secondly, the trial continued with the allegedly corrupt juror serving as one of its eleven members. In the Board’s view, there should have been no question of allowing Juror X to continue to serve on the jury. Allowing Juror X to remain on the jury is fatal to the safety of the convictions which followed. It was an infringement of the appellants’ fundamental right to a fair hearing under the Jamaican Constitution.”

“Thirdly, the judge should have considered whether the remaining jurors might have become consciously or unconsciously prejudiced for or against one or more of the appellants as a result of Juror X’s behaviour. For example, there was a danger that the attempted bribe could have made the other jurors overcompensate, consciously or unconsciously, if they assumed that the offer must have come from one of the appellants and that therefore they must be guilty. The judge took no account of this risk.”

The Privy Council also acknowledged the dilemmas faced when jury tampering occurs and noted the lack of legislative provisions in Jamaica for such scenarios.

“In England and Wales there is legislation which allows a judge in certain situations to discharge a jury because of jury tampering and to continue the trial by judge alone,” Judge Lloyd-Jones said in a summary.

“There is no such legislation in Jamaica. It follows that there will be occasions where, as in this case, a court will have no alternative but to discharge a jury and end the trial to protect the integrity of the system of trial by jury.”

The Privy Council Case ID is JCPC 2022/0049, “Shawn Campbell and 3 others (Appellants) v The King (Respondent) No 2 (Jamaica)”. 

Downloads: Full Privy Council Judgment, 2020 Jamaica Court Of Appeal ruling.