The Court of Appeal yesterday reserved its decision on whether a magistrate’s decision to acquit former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Senator Frank Smith of bribery and extortion charges was legally sound.
Prosecutors have challenged the “flawed and erroneous” February 1 ruling of Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt to acquit Smith on allegations that he extorted Barbara Hanna, the owner of Magic Touch Cleaning Company.
Prosecutors said that Smith assisted Hanna in getting a contract to clean the Critical Care Unit of Princess Margaret Hospital and then demanded that she pay him $5,000 monthly after she received her first payment.
Yesterday, Smith’s lawyer, K.D. Knight, QC, told justices of appeal Jon Isaacs, Stella Crane-Scott and Roy Jones that the magistrate was obliged to uphold the no-case submission based on the evidence.
He said that the prosecution had failed to establish that Smith had influenced the award of the contract to Hanna’s company.
According to her evidence, Hanna said that she met with Smith in January 2016; however, PHA legal counsel Leslie Isaacs testified that the PHA board agreed to award the contract in December 2015.
Director of Public Prosecutions Garvin Gaskin, on the other hand, said the offenses were covered despite when the meeting occurred as the extortion payments were allegedly made between 2016 and 2017.
Knight was effusive in his praise of the magistrate’s ruling, saying, “She should be congratulated for the decision that she has handed down. She took extremely seriously the duty to go through the evidence strand by strand.”
Knight said it was up to the magistrate to determine the credibility of the witnesses by paying attention to inconsistencies and discrepancies in testimony and their demeanor.
In her ruling, Ferguson-Pratt determined that Hanna was a dishonest witness based on her evasiveness when asked about personal financial matters.
In criticism of this finding, Gaskin said that the magistrate considered extraneous issues in her deliberations.
Gaskin contended that the magistrate was only required to determine if there was some evidence, regardless of how tenuous, to support the charge.
Gaskin said, “The magistrate, throughout her ruling, sought to analyze the evidence not with a view to determine whether a prima facie case had been made out, but with a view to determining whether the case had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Gaskin said that “contrary to law, the magistrate made findings” in her ruling on the no-case submissions.
Gaskin was of the view that the decision of the magistrate was “erroneous and based on the wrong legal principle”.