VANCOUVER - A perjury conviction against Air India bomb maker Inderjit Singh Reyat should be overturned because jurors weren't required to agree on what he lied about before finding him guilty, says a lawyer.
Ian Donaldson told the B.C. Court of Appeal that a lack of unanimity among jurors examining 19 alleged lies Reyat told in the 2003 trial of two men accused of mass murder and conspiracy resulted in an unfair verdict.
"The effect of the ruling, coupled with the nature of the indictment, rendered the process flawed," he said Thursday.
Reyat's November 2010 perjury conviction came after three days of testimony in September 2003, when he said he knew nothing about the conspiracy involving Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik, who were acquitted of mass murder in the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182.
Donaldson said B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian McEwan erred in instructing jurors that they only had to conclude Reyat lied once out of the 19 occasions the Crown said he was untruthful in order for them to convict him, Donaldson said.
He said the jury should have been directed to agree on at least one false statement.
"It gave the Crown, really, 19 targets with which to shoot with the jury," he said of the indictment. "The ultimate effect of that was to water down, in my submission, and diminish the burden of proof."
However, he and the Crown had agreed on that instruction to the jury. The guidance was similar to what was given to the jury trying former Saskatchewan politician Colin Thatcher, who was convicted of killing his ex-wife in the early 1980s.
Crown lawyer Len Doust said there was only one count on the indictment involving Reyat's testimony. Reyat was accused of repeatedly misleading the court by saying he didn't know or remember anything about the conspiracy that led to the deaths of 329 people, mostly Canadian citizens.
"He was lying in order to mislead the jury about a number of things," said Doust, who failed in his bid to have the man declared a hostile witness during the trial.
He said Donaldson never suggested there was insufficient evidence for the jury to convict Reyat on any of the 19 lies, all of which had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jurors didn't have to rely on the same facts but had to be unanimous in their verdict and could therefore take different routes to come to the same conclusion, Doust said.
"It is of legal indifference which factual path each juror chose to follow. The accused is still guilty."
Reyat's testimony was part of a deal that saw him plead guilty to manslaughter in the deaths of everyone aboard Flight 182, which slammed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985 en route to London after leaving Montreal.
Reyat, who was called an unmitigated liar by a judge, had already served a 10-year sentence for the same-day deaths of two Tokyo baggage handlers who were killed when a bomb-laden suitcase meant for another Air India plane exploded prematurely.
Until last year, the longest perjury sentence ever handed down was six years in an Alberta case.
The Crown maintains that British Columbia-based Sikhs hatched the plot to take revenge against government-owned Air India after the Indian army stormed the Golden Temple — Sikhism's holiest shrine — in Amritsar in June 1984 to oust Sikh separatists.
B.C. Supreme Court Judge Ian McEwan, who sentenced Reyat on the perjury conviction, said his lies raised questions about the admissions between defence and Crown that led to his manslaughter conviction.