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Volume 12 Number 2
New Delhi, Summer 2005

Justice Still Elusive to the Grenada 17

Allan Scott
Human Rights Activist

As twenty two years pass on, human rights organisations across the Commonwealth are calling on the Government of Grenada to redress the injustice of the unfair trial inflicted on 17 political prisoners known as the Grenada 17. Amnesty International in their new report entitled The Grenada 17: Last of the cold war prisoners? concluded that the trial was fatally flawed and failed to meet the required international standards. “The Grenada 17 cannot continue to be incarcerated on the grounds of a conviction that was obtained via a process that was a gross violation of international standards governing the fairness of trials,” stated the report.


In October 1983, a violent confrontation involving high-ranking members of the ruling New Jewel Movement, army officers and others, led to the killing of the Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and some of his supporters. Six days later, the United States of America led an invasion of Grenada, citing concerns around the safety of its citizens on the islands among other reasons.Numerous people were detained by the invading forces in connection with the October killings.

The Grenada 17 trial took place in an atmosphere of hostility and resulted in 14 being sentenced to death and 3 to long terms of imprisonment. The death sentences were commuted a few years later.

Areas of concern

Putting the spotlight on the trial again, has raised grim concerns about the purpose and the damning conclusion of the incident.

  1. The prisoners have time and again voiced complaints on being tortured repeatedly either by the detaining forces after they had been imprisoned in Richmond Hill. On questioning, the authorities have kept silent on the issue raising comments that the Grenada 17 is a precursor to the Guantanomo Bay abuses.

  2. The selection of the jury was fraught with irregularities that contravened accepted legal protections and the laws of Grenada. The court removed the long standing Registrar and dismissed his jury pool, and replaced him with Ms Denise Campbell who was a member of the prosecution team. The jury was picked without any probe for prejudice and no defendant or defence counsel was present during the selection process. Prior to selection, the prospective jurors had made hostile remarks about the defendants and their legal representatives raising doubts on their impartiality.

  3. The 17 were denied access to numerous documents that had been seized by US forces that were essential to their defence. When the US refused to return them, no action was taken by the trial judge to secure their production. The judge went on to rule that the documents were not strictly necessary for the defence. Some of the defendants also had legal documents they were preparing in their cells removed by the prison authorities in violation of their right to prepare a defence in confidence.

  4. The prosecution case depended heavily on the questionable testimony of one witness, Cletus St Paul. In the May-June 1989 session of the appeal hearing, Clarence Hughes QC told the court that he had information that some or all of the three statements that St Paul had given to the police contradicted his evidence at the trial and at the preliminary hearing. Although the prosecution was under a legal duty to disclose these statements to the defence, at the trial the defendants were never advised that these statements existed.

  5. The trial court was deemed unconstitutional, and as a result, the 17 withdrew from the trial in protest against an unconstitutional court.

The case as it stands now

The Grenada 17 appealed on the points raised above and also on the basis of the Amnesty International’s findings, however, the appeal court was content to confirm the original trial verdict which would have resulted in many of the 17 being executed. How did the court of appeal justify the gross violation of international standards governing the fairness of trials? Nobody knows, as the judgement has never been made available. There is certainly no clue available in the oral verdict of the Court, which was described by Ramsey Clark, a former US Attorney General, as “wholly political in context and tone, including no consideration of the facts and law that made the entire proceedings illegal. False in it’s finding of fact and a corruption of justice.”

There is a reference in a report to Washington dated December 1989 to a discussion between Sir Frederick and the US Embassy in Bridgetown, and in January 1981 the reason for the postponement of the appeal decision is explained. The US political officer was told that the postponement was necessary so that the written decision of the Appeal Court would be available at the same time as the oral announcement of the decision. The Appeal Court had planned to announce its decision prior to the distribution of the written decision. However, the dismissal of an appeal decision from another Commonwealth country (Malaysia) was brought to the attention of the court. The Malaysian appeal court had delivered an oral decision in a separate sitting from the presentation of the written decision, and a higher court had dismissed the decision and ordered a re-hearing of the appeal.

To prevent the possibility of such a rehearing in the case of the 17, the Appeal Judges had decided to submit their oral and written decisions at the same time. As Chief Appeal Judge Sir Frederick Smith had just returned from England, more time was needed to prepare the written decision. This report clearly shows that the written judgment would have been submitted when the court issued its oral decision, so why has it been kept hidden ever since? In July 1991, Ms. Hylton was able to tell the political officer that one judgement alone was over 200 pages long, so the Director of Public Prosecution, an officer of the state, had clearly seen it, yet it has never been shown to the Defendants or their lawyers.

What is equally disturbing is that one of the released documents indicates that all of the documents taken by the US following the invasion were subsequently microfilmed and the originals returned to the Government of Grenada prior to August 1985. It is stated that the Commissioner of Police, Cosmus Raymond, confirmed that the Royal Grenada Police Force has custody of the documents at police headquarters. This shows that the documents needed by the 17 for their defence were actually in Grenada well before their trial ended, yet they were never made available to the defence either at the trial hearing or for their appeal. If there is any grain of truth in the statements of the political officer then there has been blatant political interference in the judicial process.

Requests sent to the Grenadian Prime Minister Dr. Mitchell, to set up an independent judicial review have fallen on deaf ears. If the government is unwilling to hold a fresh trial under the circumstances the only alternative is to release the prisoners. Civil society demands no less!

CHRI Newsletter, Summer 2005

Editors: Vaishali Mishra & Clare Doube, CHRI;
Print: Anshu Tejpal,
Web Developer: Swayam Mohanty, CHRI.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors

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