On Thursday afternoon, I attended Magistrate Beharry’s Court (Court One in the Georgetown district) in support of three of my friends, Mark Benschop, Lincoln Lewis and Norris Witter, who are charged with four offences arising out of a picket outside the Eve Leary Police compound.
Getting to the court was a heath risk. On Thursday afternoon the court yard was inundated with feces water. The water appeared to the normal eyes as resulting from rain but closer scrutiny revealed it was sewage water.
As Khemraj Ramjattan walked freely on the stuff, I yelled out that he should be careful. I sat sandwiched between Benschop and Lewis on a bench that ran out of space. There were a number of matters called before the one I was interested in.
Here is a tragic example. An accused appeared in the dock charged with stealing $9M worth of goods from his employer. The prosecutor said the accused worked as a security detail and after work, broke into the store and carted off the items. This fellow had no shoes on his feet. His jersey was of poor quality and his trousers were besmirched. He cut a figure of a homeless man.
Asked to speak, he pleaded guilty and explained to the magistrate that he has no stable family member to assist him. He had no lawyer and no relatives were in court. He intoned that if put on bail he would need to go out and raise the bail himself. That plea brought a whiff of laugher from the benches. This man’s situation cries out for investigation. The case is concluded so society can comment on facts. He will be sentenced next week.
The sum of $9M is a whopping amount. How can a person stash away $9M worth of commercial stuff and when charged, cannot appear in court with clean clothes and a pair of shoes? To add more mystery, he had no one in court to console him or show support. What did he do with 45,000 American dollars worth of goods? That is a large amount of items he stole. Is there any mystery in at all? No, I don’t think there is.
My interpretation of this case is that this poor fellow did not understand the charges read to him. Is the amount really $9M? As I sat there listening to him, I thought the Magistrate would have postponed the matter and called for further details from the prosecutor. I would like to see an enumeration of the items. I hope the Guyana Bar Association, the Guyana Human Rights Association and human rights activists like Mark Benschop take up this case.
Then there was this interesting story that once again shows up the total lack of familiarity of most, if not all magistrates on the purpose of bail. I keep asking in these columns what have these magistrates learnt from their classrooms when they were students.
A young woman had seven charges read out to her. Her father sent around $800,000 from Suriname to her in Guyana from time to time to bank it for him but she took the money for herself. She pleaded guilty to all seven charges. Her father was in court and her sister and grandmother.
Attorney Joseph Harmon brokered an agreement between them. The father would accept half of the sum in restitution and a signed agreement would be put in place.
This would involve deduction from her salaries. The father told the Magistrate that he arrived at his decision to avoid a jail term for his daughter. The Magistrate sought a guarantee and got from the grandmother that she will ensure the girl attends court for sentencing. Much to my surprise, the Magistrate then decided to put bail at $10,000 for each charge.
Harmon said $70,000 was out of the reach of the young lady. A case was settled between the parties involved but Magistrate Beharry wanted $70,000 in bail. It was reduced to $50,000. But why bail when the conflict was over?
What is the purpose of bail? To ensure the accused attends court. Mark Benschop is on more than eight charges spanning more than a year. He attends court all the time.
Yet recently Magistrate Robertson put him on $10,000 bail for another charge. Why $10,000 when she had already put him on self bail for other charges? The bail mystery of our magistrates continues to stalk the rule of law.
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