In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal yesterday overturned a Supreme Court decision that could have potentially affected close to 160 voluntary bills of indictments signed by a lawyer whose application for admission to the Bahamas Bar Association was rejected.
On October 7, Supreme Court Justice Deborah Fraser ruled that the committal of Canes Villus to stand trial on four counts of unlawful sexual intercourse was invalid because the VBIs did not comply with Section 258 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).
Villus’ lawyer, David Cash, argued that the CPC required a qualified legal practitioner to sign the VBI. Since the Bar had rejected the call application for Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions David Bakibinga, Cash contended he could not properly sign the VBI on behalf of the director of public prosecutions.
Appeal Court President Sir Michael Barnett said, “There is nothing in that section which prevents the attorney general/DPP from authorizing any person from acting as his agent in signing the VBI.
“It specifically authorizes a legal practitioner to do so, but in my judgment, it would be impermissible to construe it as restricting the attorney general/DPP from exercising his constitutional right to act through any other person he chooses. This construction does not do any violence to the language of section 258 and more importantly, it gives effect to his wide powers conferred by Article 78.”
Sir Michael continued, “It is not disputed that the person who signed the VBI was an agent of the DPP and authorized by him to sign the VBI. Indeed, the DPP is strenuously defending that action as his own. In the result, there is no basis for saying that the VBI was not signed by the DPP or by that the signature on the VBI does not count as the signature of the DPP. For these reasons, I do not agree that the VBI is invalid. The Supreme Court cannot treat it as a nullity. It is obliged to act on it.”
Still, Sir Michael faulted the DPP’s decision to delegate his authority to persons who are not legal practitioners.
“Having said that,” said Sir Michael, “I am obliged to note that this dispute ought never to have arisen. The DPP has caused it by acting through persons who are not legal practitioners when he has persons in his employ who are, in fact, legal practitioners. Moreover, it is unclear why the DPP has not invited Parliament to amend section 258 by providing that the VBI may be signed by the DPP or any legal officer in his employ.”