'I faced the Supreme Court by myself and won!' - Man wins civil suit in high court without legal assistance
It is almost unheard of for persons to win lawsuits in the Jamaican Supreme Court without a lawyer to represent them, but Andrew Rashford accomplished exactly that in October of this year, despite not having a high school or university education to his name.
"I had to do all the legal paperwork, and draft everything from scratch, by myself, without legal representation. When I was 18 years old I could not spell my last name, I had never been to university or secondary school or high school, and if I could do it without a lawyer, I think a lot more of us can do it," 44-year-old Rashford, a farmer from Myersville in St. Elizabeth, said while outlining his experience to The Sunday Gleaner.
Rashford was the claimant in a lawsuit filed in 2012 against the offices of the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police, following an incident where the police seized a motorcycle from him while claiming it had been reported stolen, although he had in fact legally purchased the vehicle.
"I bought a motorcycle from Superior Parts Ltd. in Kingston, and I went sometime in January 2012 and paid $145,000 at Superior Parts in Montego Bay, and the balance was $105,000," Rashford explained. "I had the motorcycle for two and a half months and did not come up with the balance of money within a reasonable time, and one of the sales reps asked the police to come and seize the motorcycle from me."
According to him, the police seized the motorcycle and took him into custody on May 30 that same year, though he was released the following morning.
"They (police) told me the motorcycle was reported stolen in Mandeville, and that was the reason they gave for seizing it. I was released the next morning, and I went back on several occasions and spoke to several inspectors about the motorcycle, which I believed they took away without lawful justification," said Rashford.
His next step was to file a suit in the St. James Parish Court (then known as the Montego Bay Resident Magistrate's Court) against the officer who had detained him, but when he failed to get satisfactory redress there, he sought to take the matter before the Supreme Court.
"I filed a lawsuit against the police officer in the Montego Bay Resident Magistrate's Court in June 2012, and on three court appearances, the officer did not turn up," Rashford recounted. "The judge failed in her duty to subpoena the policeman to come to court, so I sought advice from citizens in Montego Bay, asking, 'how could I find the Supreme Court?' and I was directed to Kingston."
He added: "Upon going to Kingston and finding the Supreme Court, I went into the Civil Division and told them I would like to take out a case against the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General. They said, 'Sir, you have to get a lawyer; you cannot want to sue the state without a lawyer to represent you.' I said, 'I believe I have enough confidence within myself and can bring a civil action as a litigant.' So I was sent to the court library, and that is where I started to read up about the case."
Although Rashford had no formal education beyond the training he received at a church-school in Montego Bay and a JAMAL institute in St. Elizabeth, that did not stop him from reading as much as he could about the finer points of the law.
"I drafted numerous claims I had made - for unlawful seizure of the motorcycle, false imprisonment, defamation of character, breach of the Human Rights Act, and numerous other claims," shared the determined man. "I filed the matter in the Supreme Court in July 2012, and I had to draft the documents with all the legal points of law."
His matter was eventually tried in the Supreme Court in September 2016, but it did not get off to a smooth start.
"On the day of trial, September 28, 2016, the first judge assigned to the case walked off the case prematurely...it seemed the judge found me difficult to deal with, but I was representing myself and I figured I was arguing on a legal point, as the defendants' lawyers gave me 11 documents, but when they did the bundles for the trial, they had an additional 16 documents, and when I found out I was opposed to it," said Rashford.
"The judge tried to encourage me to get a lawyer, and I refrained to accept her encouragement, and because she said she never did a case with a litigant in person before, she was going to discharge herself from the case."
The case was eventually heard over the next two days, September 29 and 30, before High Court Judge Kissock Laing, and a ruling was handed down in Rashford's favour on October 6, though he has yet to receive the monetary compensation he was awarded.
"I was awarded $50,000 for illegal search; $200,000 for loss of the motorcycle, although in fact they awarded me $145,000, which was the deposit I had paid; and another $55,000 for loss of use of the motorcycle," Rashford outlined. "I think I could have acquired more...but I did not argue any points on that, since I saw the court was in my corner."
He believes, based on his experience, that if other Jamaicans with court cases familiarise themselves with the law, they can represent themselves instead of hiring lawyers.
"I would say to fellow Jamaican citizens, who believe that their fundamental rights may be infringed or abused by agents of the state, that they can sue the state without having to go out there and pay big money to lawyers. You just need basic knowledge of the case," said Rashford.