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Hood defends government’s position on Ewart Layne appeal

Ewart Layne – plans to look at other avenues to seek admittance to the local bar

Former Attorney General Cajeton Hood has said that the Keith Mitchell-led government had taken a non-interference approach in the court matters involving the attempt by former revolutionary convicted murderer Ewart Layne to seek admittance to practice as an attorney at the local Bar.

In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY newspaper, Hood said that he had been representing Layne from “the inception of his High Court claim” and that when he became Attorney-General after the 2013 general election, he decided to recuse himself from the case.

Layne’s application for admittance to the Bar was heard in 2013 by then female High Court Judge Justice Margaret Price-Findlay who ruled that he was not a good person of character to be admitted to the bar.

Layne has 10 convictions for murder and one for manslaughter in connection with the October 19, 1983 execution of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, three Cabinet colleagues and several others following a bitter leadership feud within the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution.

The former Attorney-General who returned to private practice in October 2017, said he did not want to get involved in a conflict of interest and took the decision to “recuse” himself from Layne’s High Court matter.

“I was Attorney General at that time so I couldn’t be involved and I recused myself. That means that the file regarding his (Layne) application was not dealt with by me (but by) the Solicitor General (Dwight Horsford at the time) and other members of the Legal Affairs – AG department dealt with the matter”, he said.

“… What people need to understand is this and I see that confusion all the time in matters relating to lawyers and clients – lawyers act on instruction of clients, if a client says to you don’t go ahead, you can’t go ahead because there is no personal involvement of the lawyer,” he added.

Hood further explained: “Now as Attorney General, I act on behalf of the State of Grenada…the Executive. If I advise that we are going right (and) the Executive says, in spite of my advice, we (are) going left, then I have to go left (because) that’s what they have decided (in spite of my advice). They are the clients, they make the decisions”.

According to the former AG who was the principal legal advisor to government, the Mitchell-led administration did “not contest Layne’s application at the level of the High Court and the reason is because the Executive at the time felt (that) it was a matter of law that was to be determined by the judge.”

“Nobody raised any hue and cry about whether or not he (Layne) is entitled or should be called to the bar…The Bar supported it (Layne’s application) in general…at High Court, nobody resisted the application. Nobody. There were several members at the bar who showed up at the High Court to show support”, he remarked.

However, Hood acknowledged that the sitting judge, Justice Price Findlay rejected the application and Layne appealed at the Court of Appeal on two (2) points of law, namely whether or not a judge had discretion to exercise in the matter and whether or not that discretion was properly applied.

He noted that it was only at that stage the Mitchell government decided to get involved in the Layne matter following a request from the Court of Appeal.

“That file (the Layne case) was sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Executive decided that they would put in an appearance at the Court of Appeal on the issues of the law – whether or not the judge exercised her discretion and whether or not that discretion should be disturbed or interfered with.”

Hood indicated that it was not him but then Solicitor General, Dwight Horsford who filed five (5) submissions which had the effect of supporting Price-Findlay’s position.

“…It was not a question of the Executive saying call Mr. Layne (to the bar) or don’t call Mr. Layne. So, the Executive’s position in my view was a proper position to adopt because the court asked the Attorney General for its input with respect to the law”, he said.

According to Hood, the view submitted by government before the Court of Appeal is that “if it were an exercise of discretion by the judge it was an exercise of the judge that the Court of Appeal should not disturb because it was not an exercise of discretion that was outrageous or that no judge at all would have decided upon and that was the issue at the Court of Appeal.”

He also sought to explain the position taken by the Mitchell government not to take part in Layne’s matter at the level of the London-based Privy Council.

He said the Privy Council asked the AG Chambers for submissions and the position taken under the then leadership of Dr. Lawrence Joseph is that “no, we are not sending in anything, you go ahead”.

“…It is not that the government was siding with (Layne) and I noticed an article in your paper that seem to suggested that the government was giving a greenlight to Mr. Layne…and that needs to be clearly stated – the government never at no point in time got involved in the question of Mr. Layne’s call (to the bar) – that must be clearly understood before the public”, Attorney Hood told this newspaper.

Layne, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the disbanded People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA) was among 16 former government and army officials who were sentenced to death by hanging in 1986 for the brutal slaying of Bishop and several others in a trial presided by former President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Sir Dennis Byron.

The decision was later reduced to life in prison until the end of their natural lives by the 1990-95 Congress government of the late Nicholas Brathwaite.

Attorney Hood recalls challenging the decision in the High Court, and taking the matter all the way up to the Privy Council.

He said: “…The Privy Council held that what the (government) did was unconstitutional (and) removed the sentence and sent the matter back to the High Court of Grenada so that they would be properly sentenced”.

After serving 26 of his 40-years sentence, Layne was released from prison and came out with degrees in law from years of studying.

Speculation is rife that last month’s ruling by the Privy Council could bring an end to Layne’s attempts to be allowed to practice law in Grenada.

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