Qs & As
The Vanessa Lagesse Murder Case
* ‘A number of questions remain unanswered to this day: Why was the body of Vanessa Lagesse cremated in haste? Why and who were responsible for cleaning up the scene of crime?’
The DPP announced last week the discontinuation of the case against Bernard Maigrot in the murder of Vanessa Lagesse that took place in 2001, and ordered a simultaneous re-opening of the police inquiry to confront the main suspect with genetic evidence that came to light some years ago. That twist in a twenty-year old unsolved mystery has raised some legal questions from the defense attorney and Lex provides his legal perspective on those matters.
* 21 years have elapsed since Vanessa Lagesse was murdered on 9 March 2001. This case, like a few others, has not been elucidated to date by our investigative system. Could it be due to the complexity of the case, or are there some grey areas in the investigations into this murder case?
The first question that come up is: how did the police proceeded through the investigation, which started 21 years ago? We do not know for sure if they were content with extracting confessions from different suspects through the use of violence, as alleged in the past, but a number of questions remain unanswered to this day: Why was the body of Vanessa Lagesse cremated in haste? Why and who were responsible for cleaning up the scene of crime? Why were some witnesses or potential witnesses allowed to leave the country? Will we ever get answers to these questions?
* Criminal cases have been thrown out for unreasonable delay when magistrates or judges take a long time to deliver a decision on an accused person’s guilt. What happens in the case where an investigation takes an unreasonably long time – in this particular case, 21 years. Is there ground for a legal challenge there?
When cases suffer from inordinate delays, there is always the possibility for the defence to make a motion that the case should be stayed or struck out for abuse of process. It is very rare that a court will put a stop to a case on the ground of delay especially since the Privy Council has ruled that delay by/in itself is not a ground for throwing out a case.
* The Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision to file a ‘discontinuance of proceedings’, as notified to the Court on Tuesday 8th Feb 2022, in the second case lodged against Bernard Maigrot before the Assizes would have been taken in light of new, and allegedly conclusive, evidence obtained from French forensics experts. Is that perfectly in order?
Apparently new scientific evidence that may link the suspect Bertrand Maigrot to the murder of Vanessa Lagesse has been available since some time. Though a case is discontinued, there is nothing that prevents it from being reopened if new evidence is forthcoming.
* The new evidence was apparently received from a French forensic laboratory in December 2010, and it was in May 2011 that the second case was lodged against Bernard Maigrot. What do existing procedural rules in matters of investigations dictate in such instances, and what could be the consequences of non-compliance with these rules?
The DPP may at any time, as stated earlier, discontinue a case and order further investigations. There is nothing wrong with that, as it is not in breach of rules. Ultimately, the outcome of the case will depend on the evidence produced by the police investigation and submitted to the DPP and the latter’s decision thereon.
* What could have happened if procedural rules are not followed?
If you mean procedural rules at the level of the police, the result of an investigation can be disastrous if established rules like, for instance, the rights of suspects are not followed.
* How reliable is forensic evidence in criminal cases, and can it be challenged?
Forensic evidence is admissible in a court of law subject to it being tested through cross-examination. At the end of the day, it is up to the court to accept it or reject it.
* Defense counsel Gavin Glover SC, who admits that the DPP is perfectly empowered to discontinue and restart proceedings, adds that the DPP’s latest decision amounts, in his view, to an abuse of process on the ground that that the rights of accused parties must also be respected and protected just like those of victims. That sounds reasonable, isn’t it?
It is not for us to judge the reasonableness of the stand of Mr Gavin Glover. If he feels there is an abuse, he should take the appropriate action before the appropriate forum.
* Is there a case for a “réglementation par la cour”, as stated by Gavin Glover, or by the lawmaker for a review of that particular power of the DPP to discontinue and restart proceedings as it is the practice presently?
All decisions of the DPP can be challenged, as decided by the Privy Council, before the Supreme Court through the procedure of judicial review.
* Published in print edition on 18 February 2022
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