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Hearing on Nation ‘sex case’ on pause

The start of hearing in the Nation Publishing Company’s “sex case”, has been put on hold for another four months.

When publisher Vivian-Anne Gittens, editor-in-chief Roy Morris and news editor Sanka Price reappeared in court this morning before Magistrate Deborah Holder to answer charges of publishing an indecent photograph of two minors engaged in a sexual act, they were ordered to return on July 21.

Hearing in the case failed to get off the ground because the prosecution informed the court it was not ready to begin today, but would be in a position to do so, when the court meets again.

That announcement sparked a “robust” verbal intervention by defence attorneys Alair Shepherd and Ezra Alleyne, which included a heated exchange with Magistrate Holder.

Shepherd, who is representing Price, was vehement that when the accused first went to court about four months ago and he had requested disclosure then, he expected the prosecution to provide the evidence today, considering the long adjournment would have facilitated their readiness. The senior counsel said he anticipated disclosure in a timely manner so the case could start at an early date.

“I don’t understand how the Crown can simply say, we are not in a position to start, without explaining . . . the prosecution is treating this court with discourtesy,” he declared.

Alleyne, who is appearing for Morris and Gittens, told the court, he personally delivered a letter requesting disclosure, when he realised “we were not in receipt of disclosure”.

“The charges have the capacity to stigmatise the accused and should be started as soon as possible,” he submitted.

He feared that the longer the matter went on without a speedy conclusion, the more entrenched the stigma would be, considering the fact that the charges are of a sexual nature.

“We are ready to fight, to press on with this matter . . . with or without disclosure,” Alleyne insisted.

In response, police prosecutor Inspector Trevor Blackman sought to explain that from the inception of the case, the Crown had assured counsel, it would make every effort to provide disclosure.

Magistrate Holder then named July 21 as the adjournment date, which did not go down well with the defence team.

And while she was sticking to her guns, Shepherd was seeking to negotiate earlier months and dates, resulting in a fiery exchange between the senior counsel and the presiding officer. Seemingly agitated by now, Magistrate Holder told the lawyers she had other cases to deal with, which must be done today, and if they wanted their matter sped up, paper committal was an option.

“It cannot be done today,” she ruled.

She then told Gittens, Morris and Price they were free to go, but must return on July 21. The charges against them stemmed from the October 26, 2013 publication of an article and accompanying photograph based on the Facebook posting of a cellphone video of two students having sex in a classroom. The publication sparked a public outcry, including a protest and a petition campaign in Heroes Square.

The three were charged under the Protection Of Children Act and were not required to plead to the indictable matter. They face the possibility of being sentenced to five years in jail, if convicted of the offence.

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