By Tiana Cole
“I find that at the material time Dr. Westford and Ms. Cummings were not Public Officers and since all the charges were for the offence of Larceny by Public Officers. I find that all the charges are bad in law.” This was the ruling of Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman in the highly publicized case against former government minister Dr. Jennifer Westford and her Administrative Assistant, Ms. Margaret Cummings.
Westford and Cummings had pleaded not guilty to 24 larceny charges which alleged that between August 2011 and April 2015, while being employed in the Public Service of Guyana, they stole $639,420,000.
They were out on $4.8M bail each pending trial at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Courts.
The women made their appearance shortly after 14:00 hrs yesterday. They sat quietly in the courtroom awaiting the Magistrate’s arrival. But they were not alone; they were accompanied by their battery of lawyers which included Senior Counsel Neil Boston, Dexter Todd, Eusi Anderson and Bettina Glasford.
Soon after the Magistrate exited her chambers, their matter was called.
The Magistrate spent about 45 minutes summarizing the evidence of some 48 witnesses called by the prosecution which was led by Senior State Counsel Natasha Backer and Teshana Lake.
During her ruling, the Magistrate said that after reviewing the evidence, she was of the opinion that every single charge was bad in law, hence they had no legal basis. As such, she ruled that the Prosecution failed miserably to make out a case against the women, since the charges were not properly conceptualized.
Consequently, Dr. Westford and Cummings were freed without even having to lead a defence.
The Magistrate pointed out that under the Constitution of Guyana, Dr. Westford and Cummings are not public officers, as was insisted by the prosecution throughout the trial.
She further added that Ministers are appointed by the President and Westford’s appointment did not come from the Public Service Commission. Hence all the charges are bad in law.
The Magistrate then dealt with the evidence in relation to the evidence of the 48 witnesses. In dealing with this, the Magistrate said that most of the witnesses’ evidence was contradicting. She said after summarizing the entirety of their evidence she found major discrepancies and inconsistencies.
She added that most of the witnesses were unable to say whether or not activities were carried out in the 10 administrative regions by the former minister and her team, “this does not say that the activities were not carried out”
In fact, the Magistrate noted that many of the witnesses told the court that they did not attend the different activities in the region.
The Magistrate said that while there is sufficient evidence that Dr. Westford signed the 24 memoranda and Cummings collected the monies and returned same to the Minister, she told the court that Cummings’ signature was not on any of the documents.
She added that there was also sufficient evidence that Westford requested the funds by way of 24 memoranda between 2011 and 2015 to conduct staff conferences, performance reviews, year reviews, skilled-based needs assignments, change acceptances workshops, training for scholarship awardees or social activities.
According to court facts, Westford was employed as Minister of Public Service from 2001-2015, while her co-accused was the principal personnel officer of the Ministry.
Cummings was also in charge of the Ministry’s accounts department.
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