From premier to prisoner: How a legal tactic backfired on Montserrat’s David Brandt

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Photo credit: The Montserrat Reporter
Former Montserrat chief minister David Brandt could be imprisoned until his trial begins in November.

David Samuel Brandt, prominent attorney and former Chief Minister of Montserrat, is currently one of 20 inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison. Brandt has not been convicted of a crime, but he is incarcerated because a “fed up” judge issued a punitive measure to counteract four years of stall tactics by Brandt’s attorneys.

Unless defense attorneys can file successful motions to dismiss Brandt’s charges or have his bail reinstated, the former head of state will spend at least the next five months in a jail cell. It is the latest twist in a sad fall from grace for one of Montserrat’s most colorful and popular attorneys and politicians.

In 2015, Brandt was charged with several counts of sexual exploitation of underage girls. His trial was finally scheduled to begin this week following four years of delays and legal challenges, including an unsuccessful request for change of venue. Brandt’s defense team on Monday asked for another continuance because one of the attorneys is unavailable due to illness. High Court Judge Gareth Evans QC granted the adjournment until November 18, 2019 . . . but also revoked Brandt’s bail. When a person is charged with a crime, the issue of bail is addressed during different stages: the initial charges, the sufficiency hearing, and for the actual trial. So even if bail is granted at one point in the case it can be rescinded at another stage at the judge’s discretion.

A source familiar with the case said Evans appeared to be “fed up” with what he deemed another delay maneuver by the defense. After Evans’ ruling, Brandt was reportedly handcuffed and escorted to H.M. Prison, which is a stone’s throw from his former office where he served as the country’s sixth Chief Minister from 1997 to 2001.

Dr. David Dorsett, who says he was once Brandt’s lead attorney, was not present for Tuesday’s ruling. He said he was stunned to hear the news.

“It was like a bolt out of the blue,” Dorsett said Friday from his office in St. John’s, Antigua. “I am astonished and quite surprised. I am aware of attempts being made to see if that decision can be reversed.”

Dorsett, who describes Brandt’s case as multi-dimensional, said his main role is to present constitutional arguments. Among the issues he plans to challenge is the manner in which the evidence was collected. He also contends that the charges against Brandt are vague. Dorsett said he is in the process of filing a motion with the Privy Council.

“It was like a bolt out of the blue. I am astonished and quite surprised.”

— David Dorsett, one of Brandt’s attorneys, on his client’s bail being revoked

Brandt, who hails from Windy Hill in eastern Montserrat, first earned fame as a cricket standout. He went on to study law and become one of Montserrat’s most well-known attorneys. He later entered politics and earned a seat in Montserrat’s Parliament. In August of 1997 he was appointed Chief Minister after Bertrand Osborne resigned following heavy criticism over his handling of negotiations with the British amid the island’s volcanic crisis.

Brandt, dubbed “Big Charlie” and “The Heavy Roller” over the years, gained popularity for his colorful arguments as an attorney and politician. His grandstanding and antics during legislative meetings became legendary. But he has been plagued for decades by rumors about dalliances with underage girls. Brandt has refuted the accusations but his responses often seem couched in legal parsing of words instead of specific, unequivocal denials.

Following this week’s news that Brandt’s bail was revoked and he was remanded to prison, reaction from Montserratians, including on social media, was mixed. Some say he is being unfairly targeted, while others feel Brandt is finally getting his comeuppance.

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