Jamaican Loses Privy Council Appeal of Murder Conviction

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By Alexander Britell

Jamaican Phillip McKenzie has lost an appeal over his murder conviction in the London-based Privy Council.

McKenzie was convicted by a unanimous verdict in 2003 in Jamaica for the gunshot murder of Calvin Clarke in Jamaica’s St Andrew Parish. He was sentenced for life imprisonment, with the recommendation that he serve 35 years before becoming eligible for parole.

Two witnesses attested to the murder — Tiny Chambers, and her nephew, Rohan Shae, aged seven at the time. It was the testimony of the latter that was grounds for appeal by McKenzie in the Jamaican Court of Appeal.

In that appeal, McKenzie argued that the trial judge had erred in admitting Rohan’s unsworn evidence without first holding a void dire to determine whether that evidence should be admitted. That was contrary to the Juveniles Act, which holds that such evidence is admissible only if child is found to be of such intelligence as to justify its admission, and to understand the duty of speaking the truth.

While the Court of Appeal found that Rohan’s evidence had been inadmissible, it concluded nevertheless that the evidence of his aunt, Tiny Chambers, was “overwhelming,” and that a jury would have inevitably found that McKenzie was guilty.

Holding that there had been “no miscarriage of justice,” the Court of Appeal applied the proviso to affirm the conviction.

McKenzie’s Privy Council appeal argued several different points, all relating to what McKenzie argued was incompetence by his defence counsel at trial, including a failure to object to the testimony of Rohan, an unsworn statement from the dock, a lack of good character direction and a lack of evidence adduced of the contents of McKenzie’s police interview.

The Privy Council dismissed ultimately dismissed the appeal, saying that “the suggestion that Tiny Chambers, who no one doubts knew perfectly well who the killer was, would on the spur of the moment falsely accuse the appellant of murder merely because of some past ill-feeling between their families is little short of absurd,” the court said.

McKenzie was represented by Ian Lawrie, QC, instructed by solicitors Slaughter & May, and the respondent was represented by Thomas Roe, instructed by solicitor Charles Russell.