The ball is back in Jamaica’s Appeals Court as UK Privy Council quashes dancehall star Vybz Kartel’s conviction

Screenshot of Vbyz Kartel (Adidja Palmer) taken from the YouTube video by Dancehall Agenda entitled ‘Vybz Kartel Final 24 Hours In Prison Possibly.’

At 11 o'clock on the morning of March 14, the Jamaican media waited breathlessly for the UK Privy Council to present its ruling on the appeal in the case of 48-year-old dancehall deejay Adija Palmer (stage name, Vybz Kartel) and three associates (Shawn Campbell, Kahira Jones and Andre St. John), hoping to be the first to break the news. Almost exactly 10 years earlier, on March 13, 2014, the four had been found guilty of the 2011 murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams, whose body has never been found.

In April 2020, six years after the murder, Jamaica’s Court of Appeal upheld the convictions after a 2018 petition by the defence, a result that dejected the flamboyant artist’s many fans. The next move by Kartel's legal team was to take the appeal to the UK Privy Council, which remains the final Court of Appeal in Jamaica, along with a number of other Commonwealth Caribbean countries.

Local journalists were abuzz, trying to predict the ruling:

Others looked back at the drama surrounding the 2014 trial:

When the Privy Council issued its decision to quash the convictions of the four and return the case to Jamaica’s Court of Appeal, which will decide whether or not there should be a retrial, there was a predictably joyful response from Kartel’s fans, while journalists, talk show hosts and legal pundits rushed to analyse the judgement and predict the next legal moves.

In “Gaza,” the popular name for the Waterford housing scheme located in Portmore, where Kartel and his crew had their base, celebrations began immediately, with many supporters believing that their idol would be freed by the Court of Appeal:

Social media was flooded with the reactions of delighted fans:

There was some confusion among Jamaicans as to the meaning of the Privy Council’s ruling, however. Was Vybz Kartel “free” or not? The Jamaica Gleaner clarified:

Bert Samuels, the outspoken defence lawyer for defendant Shawn “Shawn Storm” Campbell, gave numerous media interviews immediately after the ruling, telling journalists that there are strong grounds for a bail application and calling his client’s murder conviction a “travesty of justice and a breach of the Constitution.”

Kartel’s lawyer, Isat Buchanan, observed, “It is very significant that persons know that they are now cloaked in the presumption of innocence, can't be referred to as convicts — that's a big thing in the Jamaican space — and the Constitution reigns supreme.”

Columnist and retired lawyer Gordon Robinson had a different perspective:

A summary of the case is set out on the UK Privy Council website.

The 64-day trial, one of the longest in Jamaica’s history, involving some 30 witnesses had been exhausting, sensational, complex, and the subject of much media attention. Voice notes and confusing telephone communications formed a large part of the evidence.

Significantly, controversy also surrounded the news that one juror had attempted to bribe other jury members to acquit the accused — which was only revealed on the final day of the trial. That juror was subsequently charged and sentenced to nine months in prison. Despite this serious development, the trial went ahead. Another juror had already been dismissed eight weeks into the trial, bringing the total number of jurors to only 11.

As it turned out, the Privy Council made it clear that “juror misconduct” was the primary reason for quashing the convictions since this would likely have affected the jurors’ reasoning and their verdict one way or the other. The judge, it is suggested, should not have allowed that “allegedly corrupt juror” to remain and should have ruled for a retrial. The emphasis was on fairness: “Allowing Juror X to remain on the jury is fatal to the safety of the convictions which followed. It was an infringement of the appellants’ fundamental right to a fair hearing under the Jamaican Constitution.”

What does the Privy Council ruling say about the state of Jamaica's justice system? Will Vbyz Kartel and his associates get justice, given the already high levels of publicity and the continued high-crime environment of Jamaica? Has too much time passed? Jamaicans now await the Court of Appeal's decision.

Meanwhile, the “World Boss,” as he is known by his fans — who had earlier complained about bad prison food in a social media post — commented simply:

Jamaica's director of public prosecutions, Paula Llewellyn, who is usually most accessible to the press for interviews, has not yet commented on the ruling.

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