The Court has reduced the minimum term of imprisonment to be served from 35 to 32 years, having accepted the error of approach taken by the Acting Justice of the Grand Court that was identified by Philip Rule KC, who, together with Jonathon Hughes of Samson Law, represented the successful appellant in Rivers v R CICA (Crim) Appeal No. 7 of 2019, decided on 11 January 2024.

In its judgment, delivered by Moses JA, the Court agreed that an error of law was made in the judge’s approach to Schedule 12 of the Conditional Release of Prisoners Regulations 2016, which provides the framework to the setting of a minimum term of a life sentence in the Cayman Islands, and which begins with the term of 30 years for all murders.

The Court also agreed with the submission that the trial Judge had wrongly decided that there was no mitigation in the appellant’s case. It noted there were indeed mitigating circumstances to be taken into account, including mental health and other issues.

On the legal issue, the Court of Appeal explains:

22. As a matter of law, the question whether there are mitigating circumstances is distinct from the question whether there are mitigating circumstances of an exceptional nature. If there are mitigating circumstances of an exceptional nature, they may reduce the minimum term of 30 years, absent any exceptional aggravating circumstances. But it does not follow that if there are no exceptional mitigating circumstances, there will be no mitigation whatever. Such mitigation will be relevant in cases where there are exceptional aggravating circumstances which will serve to increase the minimum term. The judge must consider any mitigation which may be relevant to the question as to whether and how far the minimum term should be raised.

23. The instant case demonstrates that the consideration of the judge as to mitigating circumstances should not be limited to the statutory question as to whether they are exceptional in nature. In cases where he considers there to be aggravating circumstances of an exceptional nature, he must go on to consider whether there are mitigating circumstances. Even though mitigating circumstances are not of an exceptional nature, they may be such as to warrant a reduction from an uplift which might otherwise follow from a finding that there were aggravating circumstances of an exceptional nature.

This successful appeal result comes shortly after the work of Philip Rule KC and Jonathon Hughes of Samson Law in defence of a man wrongly accused of participating in a murder who was unanimously acquitted by the jury in December 2023, following a five-week trial before the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands.

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