There was some legal history today in Belize City, as for the first time in a case involving extradition, there has been a challenge mounted to the lower court’s actual decision in addition to the standard habeas corpus application filed in such cases.
28 year old Deon Bruce is accused of murder and related charges in the United States and Chief Magistrate Ann-Marie Smith ordered him to be extradited to stand trial in Chicago, Illinois earlier this year.
But Bruce’s attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd is challenging how she arrived at the decision via judicial review. She spoke to us following this morning’s session before Justice Courtney Abel.
“When you are brought before the magistrate court for a disposition matter, once that decision is made there is no appeal. But you can get a writ of habeas corpus, saying that you are being wrongly held, but that’s a very difficult bar to cross. However, there is always in law in generally option to that you can seek judicial review of a decision of a magistrate and when you seek that, you are not reviewing the destitution per say, but how the magistrate arrived at that decision, and then it verbally taking all the technical points and how the legal points possible to show that there were errors in law, there were irregularities, there were procedural impropriety, there were unreasonable things considered and irrelevant things, and there were relevant information that should have been considered”.
In court, Matura-Shepherd laid six grounds for judicial review: that Chief Magistrate Smith acted above her authority legally to order Bruce’s extradition after concluding that there was sufficient evidence when the actual decision to extradite is up to the Minister of Foreign Affairs; that she made certain errors of law, procedure and exercise of authority; that the evidence presented by the U.S. Government was inadmissible both in form and substance and there was nothing for the court to consider; that the Chief Magistrate misguided herself on the evidence produced, leading to an erroneous conclusion in favour of the Government; that she erred in law by concluding that there was sufficient evidence under the laws of Belize that would satisfy extradition; and finally that she facilitated abuse of process by allowing the Solicitor General’s office to essentially conduct a private criminal prosecution of her client and demonstrated apparent bias against Bruce in the pre-hearing stage and despite that continued as adjudicator.
The case now turns to the habeas corpus application, as Matura-Shepherd explains.
Audrey Matura Shepherd: “It is a bit novel because usually the way most extradition matters go it’s just habeas corpus and then you appeal at on that. Let us do the habeas corpus, but let us do the judicial review. There is authority in law in the United Kingdom where it would apply to us where you can have both at the same time. So, we are arguing both. But the business that started with the judicial review is that as you notice, my client, for whatever reason, has not been brought from prison, and an habeas corpus cannot be heard without the prisoner before the court because habeas corpus means bring forth the body. So, how will you have a hearing without the body being present”.
At the time of our interview Bruce had indeed not been presented at court but he did make it for the afternoon session. Arguments continued throughout the afternoon and will continue into Friday when the Government responds.