Narine Sooklal and Another v The State

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Hope of Craighead
Judgment Date21 July 1999
Judgment citation (vLex)[1999] UKPC J0721-5
CourtPrivy Council
Docket NumberAppeal No. 40 of 1998
Date21 July 1999
(1) Narine Sooklal
and
(2) Francis Mansingh
Appellants
and
The State
Respondent

[1999] UKPC J0721-5

Present at the hearing:-

Lord Slynn of Hadley

Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead

Lord Hope of Craighead

Lord Clyde

Lord Hutton

Appeal No. 40 of 1998

Privy Council

1

[Delivered by Lord Hope of Craighead]

2

The appellants Narine Sooklal ("Sooklal") and Francis Mansingh ("Mansingh") together with Sooklal's 15 year old son Sharma Sooklal (known as "Ding") were charged jointly with the murder of Mobina Ali on the night of 10th December 1992. The case was tried in the High Court of Justice by Volney J. and a jury in May 1996. During the trial Ding was acquitted on a submission that there was no case for him to answer. On 24th May 1996 Sooklal and Mansingh were found guilty of the murder. They were sentenced to death. They appealed against their convictions to the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago. On 26th February 1997 the Court of Appeal (Sharma, Ibrahim and Permanand J.J.A.) dismissed their appeals and affirmed the convictions and sentences. Reasons for the decision were given on 26th September 1997. On 23rd February 1998 the appellants were given special leave to appeal to their Lordships' Board.

3

The victim of the killing was a 52 year old woman who had worked for about two years as a housemaid at the home of Sooklal's father-in-law, Harry Narine Singh. The case for the State depended mainly upon written confession statements provided to the police by the appellants after they had been arrested and taken into custody. These statements were received into evidence without objection. There was no real dispute about the background. The outcome of the trial depended very largely on such inferences as could be drawn from admissions made by the appellants about the part which they had each played in the incident.

4

Sooklal's wife believed that the deceased had been trying to persuade her father to change his will and leave his property to her instead of to his own family. It was decided that something should be done to prevent this. Sooklal agreed with Mansingh that the deceased should be given a beating to frighten her away. At about 10.30 p.m. on the evening of 10th December 1992 Sooklal, Ding and Mansingh collected the deceased by car from her home under the pretext that Harry Narine Singh was ill and needed her attention. Instead of taking her to his house they took her to a quiet spot where they stopped the car at the side of the road. Mansingh began to slap and then to strangle the deceased. She was pushed out of the car, whereupon Mansingh cut her throat with a cutlass. She was found dead at about 7.35 a.m. by a watchman the next day. A post mortem report revealed that death was due to the injuries which were inflicted when her throat was cut. Two days later the appellants were arrested and, under caution, gave written statements to the police in which they each gave detailed descriptions of their part in the incident. Mansingh admitted that he slapped and attempted to strangle the deceased and then cut her neck with a cutlass. Sooklal admitted that he was present throughout, that he saw Mansingh beating the deceased and then cutting her throat with the cutlass and that after it was all over he and the other two drove back home.

5

Mansingh gave evidence at the trial. He maintained that he had been drinking on the day of the incident. He said that he could not remember what happened because he was under the influence of alcohol. His only defence was that he lacked the intention which was necessary for murder. His counsel invited the jury to convict him of manslaughter. Sooklal did not give evidence. His defence was that he was party to a joint enterprise whose only purpose was to slap the deceased in order to frighten her, and that Mansingh departed from what was agreed when he attacked the deceased with the cutlass and cut her throat. His counsel submitted that for this reason he was not guilty of murder. But he accepted that he might be guilty of manslaughter.

6

At the time of the trial the common law rule of constructive malice, known as the "felony/murder" rule, was thought still to be part of the law of murder in Trinidad and Tobago. The State did not need to rely on this rule against Mansingh. On his own admission, he was the person who had killed the deceased by cutting her throat with the cutlass. But the case against Sooklal was presented on the basis that it was sufficient for the State to prove that he was a party to a plan to commit acts of violence on the deceased and that the deceased died from injuries sustained while that plan was being carried out. The trial judge gave the traditional felony/murder directions when he dealt with Sooklal's position in the course of his summing up. He mentioned the fact that Mansingh's defence was that he had acted while under the influence of alcohol. But he told the jury that if they were not sure that he had the necessary intention for murder they should acquit him, not that they should find him guilty of manslaughter. The Court of Appeal held, after examining the facts, that if the jury had been properly directed by the trial judge they would have returned the same verdicts. They applied the proviso in Sooklal's case because of the inferences which they drew from his confession statement. In Mansingh's case they held that the argument that he was so intoxicated as to be guilty only of manslaughter was untenable, as it was clear from his statement that he was faithfully carrying out the instructions which had been given to him by Sooklal.

7

At the hearing of the appeal before their Lordships' Board the argument for Mansingh was presented first, as he was the first named accused at the trial. Their Lordships have found it convenient to follow the same order in setting out their reasons for the judgment which they propose to issue in this case.

8

Mansingh.

9

The trial judge gave the following direction to the jury with regard to Mansingh's defence that he lacked the requisite mens rea for murder because he was intoxicated:-

"Now, let me tell you in relation to that statement that the accused has said certain things about the intake of alcohol, puncheon rum. If you think, having considered all the evidence in this case on that issue and in determining what was his intent, if you find that he is the one who cut the woman in her throat, if you think because of drink he may have lacked the necessary intention, you will acquit him. You will convict him only if the prosecution has satisfied you so that you are sure that, notwithstanding the drink that he had taken, he did have the intention either to kill or to do grievous bodily harm."

10

Mr. Kentridge Q.C. for Mansingh said that the sole issue in his appeal was whether he was entitled to a direction that, if he lacked the specific intent for murder because he was drunk, he should be found guilty of manslaughter. The evidence against him consisted of his confession statement and the evidence which he gave on oath at the trial. There was no dispute that the confession statement had been properly admitted by the trial judge. In his statement he said that he and Sooklal had taken two drinks each of puncheon rum, and that he did not know what had got into his head when he chopped the deceased's neck with the cutlass. His explanation for what he had done was: "I get so stupid". Mr. Kentridge accepted that this was a rather thin basis for the submission that Mansingh lacked the specific intent for murder because he was intoxicated. But he was able to show that Mansingh enlarged upon this point when he gave evidence at the trial. In his evidence he said that he and Sooklal had drunk some alcohol and had become intoxicated. When his own counsel asked him to say what had happened after he and Sooklal had picked the deceased up from her house, his reply was:-

"A. I don't remember. I had alcohol in my head.

Q. What's that? You cannot remember …

A. I cannot remember because I was under alcohol."

11

The point was put to him again when he was being cross-examined by Sooklal's counsel:-

"Q. Mr. Mansingh, I'm trying to understand. What you're saying is on the night of the incident .. are you saying that you drank so much alcohol that you were drunk that night?

A. Yes, I was drunk, yes."

12

Mr. Kentridge submitted that so long as there was some evidence that the accused was drunk at the time when the offence was committed the judge must leave it to the jury to consider whether he was guilty of manslaughter. In this case it was plain that the judge did not think that there was no evidence that Mansingh lacked the necessary intent for murder. This was because he decided to give the jury a direction about this in his summing up. What he had omitted to do was to leave it to them to consider whether he was guilty of manslaughter.

13

Mr. Kentridge developed his argument by reference to authority. He submitted that in Reg. v. Majewski [1977] A.C. 443, 454H–455A Lawton L.J. summarised the existing state of the authorities correctly when he said, after referring to Lord Birkenhead L.C.'s speech in Director of Public Prosecutions v. Beard [1920] A.C. 479:-

"Whatever differences of opinion there may be about what Lord Birkenhead L.C. meant by a "specific intent" there can be none about the relevance of evidence as to self-induced intoxication when there is a charge of murder; it can reduce murder to manslaughter but cannot bring about an acquittal."

14

In Bullard v. The Queen [1957] A.C. 635, 644 Lord Tucker said that every man on trial for murder had the right to have the issue of manslaughter left to the jury if there was any evidence on which such a verdict could be given. Mr. Kentridge accepted that in this case, by directing an acquittal rather than a reduction of murder to manslaughter, the trial judge had...

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