Power is something that must be controlled. In countries where an individual enjoys unbridled power, then that person does things that would see him being deemed a dictator. The world has its share of dictators.
There are people in positions of power in every sphere of national life, but many of them recognize that power is not to be abused. Just recently we were regaled by accusations of sexual harassment by people who were in positions of power.
William ‘Bill’ Cosby is before the courts for using his position to have sex with many women, many of them without their consent. There was the Hollywood big wig, Harvey Weinstein, who caused a whole new movement to be fashioned. He had a field day with many women, to the point that he was fired.
In Guyana, politicians and judicial officers enjoy power—immense power. Because of this power, some of them have been able to enrich themselves beyond their wildest dreams. There was one magistrate who had touts operating outside the court.
The person being prosecuted would meet with the tout who in turn would send a signal to the magistrate. More often than not the prosecuted gets a sentence that is far from commensurate with the crime. Sometimes cases are dismissed, leaving the plaintiff bewildered.
But not in all cases is the power used to enrich the person on the bench. Sometimes this power leads to excesses in the dispensation of justice.
I happened upon a case that ended this week with a driver, Owen Greene, being sentenced to one month jail for declining to pay compensation to the plaintiff. He was charged with careless driving, a charge that does not attract a jail sentence.
The evidence was that the defendant was driving a truck along the East Bank Demerara Public Road heading to the city. A woman identified as Larissa McDonald was heading in the same direction. One report suggested that the woman overtook the truck then there was a collision.
I am not at liberty to suggest that the woman caused it, even though she cut in front of the truck. In the end the matter reached the magistrate’s court. The truck driver was charged because he struck the vehicle in front of him.
When I spoke with him he said that he could not afford to be heading to court as often as he would be required to, so he opted to plead guilty. The magistrate, to his credit, asked for an explanation and when he got it, he changed the plea to not guilty. This was some time last year. The case ended on Tuesday when the magistrate said that he found the defendant guilty.
The law stipulates that on conviction, the defendant is liable to a fine of no less than $25,000 and no more than $40,000. That was understood, but the magistrate decided to extrapolate. He decided to add a jail term to a conviction that carried none.
Greene told me that after the accident, he suggested to Ms. McDonald that he repair her vehicle. The magistrate intervened and suggested that no such thing should happen. Greene suggested that his insurance should take control of the situation.
He went so far as to encourage Ms. McDonald to ensure the maximum claim from his insurance. As was expected, his insurance company compensated the woman. So there they were in court and the magistrate asked Greene whether he was prepared to compensate the woman.
I would expect that to have the insurance company compensate the woman then ask the defendant to compensate her is double jeopardy. It is not within the remit of the magistrate to demand compensation. The plaintiff could make an application to the court, but it is not for the magistrate to suggest any such thing.
Power does strange things to people. It makes them believe that they can distort the rules and apply their distortion according to their whims and fancy. Last December he threatened one Leroy Bagot with jail if he did not compensate the plaintiff. Who gave him that right?
Bagot was as scared of jail as most people are that he paid the compensation.
So there is Greene in court trying to explain that his insurance company compensated the woman and that he should not. Using his immense power, the magistrate told him that failure to pay the compensation would land him in jail. So Greene was sent to jail on a conviction that did not carry a term of imprisonment.
He has appealed, but while that was happening his wife panicked and raced to pay the compensation demanded by the court. So Greene goes to court for refusing to pay the compensation, however Ms. McDonald gets the compensation anyhow. Greene was now going to serve a jail term despite paying the compensation.
Had the situation not been so serious it would have been comedic. The situation does not end there. Greene appealed and the person to grant the appeal was the very magistrate who sent him to jail. This magistrate then fixes bail pending appeal.
I am a law-abiding citizen, but in some cases I have to comment on the actions of those entrusted with the interpretation of the law. I remember doing so when Justice B.S. Roy granted an ex parte injunction against a car dealer when the man was within the precincts of the court.
The next thing I knew was a clerk of Justice Roy’s court calling to inform me that the judge wanted to see me. I thought that it was a social call, so I turned up to meet the judge. No sooner had I entered the court than the court was called into session and I was told that I was on contempt charges. I was lured to the court by deception.
I faced the trial knowing that there are no appeals against contempt charges and that the judge was the sole arbiter. I was sure I was heading to jail. It turned out otherwise because my lawyer agreed that I write an apology. The irony was that I was not allowed to report on what transpired during the trial. Such is power.
I also remember the same judge inviting Freddie Kissoon to meet with him but given my experience, Kissoon never appeared, so he faced no charge.
Will this magistrate invite me for my comments of his handling of the case? I think not.
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