Corruption trial judge dies -Five-year long case now in limbo

Justice Paul Harrison died on Sunday after a very short illness (file photo)
Delana Isles
Presiding judge of the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team’s corruption trial, Justice Paul Harrison passed away at his home in Jamaica on Sunday, February 7. 

An obituary notice was issued by the Chief Justice Mabel Agyemang on Sunday evening, confirming the news.

"Mr Justice Paul Harrison died this afternoon, after a very short illness,” it read.

Harrison was sworn in on July 10, 2012, as the Supreme Court judge to preside over criminal cases arising from the 2008 Commission of Inquiry.

From December 18, 2015, up until the time of his death, he conducted the corruption trial of former TCI premier Michael Misick and several others.

In her obituary notice, the chief justice said: "Mr Justice Harrison, a Jamaican judge, was chosen to sit on R v Misick & Ors because of his hard work and proven integrity. 

"He gave of his best to the judiciary to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the eight years that he presided over that trial. He will be remembered with affection and respect.”

Chief Justice Agyemang said in due course the judiciary will host a special court sitting in his memory, adding: "May his gentle soul rest in peace.”

In an invited comment, Queen’s Counsel Andrew Mitchell, lead prosecutor for the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT), extended his condolence to the family of Harrison. 

"It goes without saying that our thoughts at this time are with the Harrison family at his sudden tragic passing. This is absolutely heart-breaking. Such a charming, caring devoted jurist.”

As news of the judge’s sudden passing circulated, many social media commentators speculated on the future of the trial and who will now preside over it to bring it to conclusion.

Others called for the defendants to plead guilty and relieve the country of further financial burden.  

Either way, major concerns surround the judge’s passing, as Justice Harrison was the first judge in the TCI to try a case on his own, under the Trial Without A Jury Ordinance.  

After three years of evidence presented by the prosecution, and a few weeks of one defendant’s testimony, concerns are that a second judge will need a long time to catch up.

Other arguments have been made that a second judge cannot come into the trial at this stage and be expected to conduct an impartial and fair trial.

A statement from the court is expected to be published imminently but was not available at time of press.

Justice Harrison’s passing has also dredged up old concerns among social media commentators that his age should have been considered from the time of his appointment. 

He was 75 years old at that time; he died at the age of 83.

Harrison, like the prosecution at the time, had strongly defended his ability to take on the case, age notwithstanding.

Other issues related to his age again popped up last year, when the Covid-19 pandemic occasioned virtual sittings of all TCI courts according to the Governor’s Emergency Order.

Defendants had strongly opposed these sittings. But a final judgement delivered by the Privy Council in late December upheld a Court of Appeal decision to dismiss the defence challenges.

Last ditch efforts a few weeks ago saw defence lawyers urging Justice Harrison to return to the Islands so that he could receive the life-saving Covid-19 vaccine.