Privy Council quashes murder conviction of Bahamian juvenile following concerns over his treatment in police custody

Shavargo McPhee, who was convicted of murder six years ago, has had his conviction quashed by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council today in an important decision that emphasises the need for police to adhere to proper safeguards when questioning juveniles.

In November 2008, McPhee, who was at the time 17 years old, was arrested for murder which had occurred in the course of an armed robbery at a food store by two men. The evidence against him included an apparent written confession which was said to have been spontaneously made to the police after 31 hours of detention. However, up until then, he had not spoken to a parent, he had received no legal advice and he had been denied food for almost 24 hours. His appeal to the Privy Council centred upon whether the confession should have been excluded on grounds of unreliability and unfairness.

There were also several periods when McPhee was out of his cell at the police station, which were unexplained by officers and gave rise to concern. Lord Hughes, delivering the decision, said that “neither the detention record nor the evidence of the officers…gave much clue as to what had been happening to him during that time”. The Privy Council found that the irresistible inference was that there had been unrecorded interviews leading up to his confession. Lord Hughes noted that “this requirement for a scrupulous record of all interviews with a suspect is a critical part of modern policing. Experience the world over has shown the damage that can be done to the criminal process by informal interrogations”.

As a juvenile, McPhee’s constitutional right to speak to a parent was also breached when efforts by police officers to contact his mother by telephone failed and they took no further steps to inform a relative or anyone else of his whereabouts. Although a local Bishop was brought into the station to witness the confession, the Privy Council said that the Bishop was “plainly not apprised of the nature of his role” as someone who may actively assist McPhee and make enquiries about the circumstances of his detention.

Taken together, the Privy Council found that it had no doubt that all these factors showed that the State had not proved that McPhee’s confession was reliable. And even if it was reliable, its admission was unfair and it should have been excluded. His conviction was quashed.

About the Death Penalty Project

The Death Penalty Project is an independent international human rights organisation housed in the offices of Soho legal firm Simons Muirhead & Burton LLP. For more than 20 years,

The Death Penalty Project has worked to protect the human rights of those facing the death penalty. The Death Penalty Project was instructed by Gina Morley, attorney-at-law in The Bahamas. Edward Fitzgerald QC from Doughty Street Chambers and Amanda Clift-Matthews (in-house Counsel) were instructed pro bono in this case.