One of the most prominent and definitely of the most popularly known retired judges in this country said to me as I was standing in a bracing position at the glass counter in the DSL supermarket on Sheriff Street, “You cannot name me, but I definitely disagree with the large bail the magistrates put on people….”
I pleaded with this judge to be identified, since the quote could be influential, coming from such a high profile former judge. But I was turned down. What is it about what the former judge said that Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan doesn’t understand?
After another prison break last week, the Minister admitted he has no more ideas about how to stop future occurrences. Obviously the minister has not read the plethora of newspaper letters and the enquiries that followed previous prison mayhems. There is nothing esoteric about life. Life follows logical pathways, with a few exceptions here and there.
If you fill up the jail with young men charged with silly, little crimes, you will have prison riots. What is it about that sociological law that the Minister does not understand? On the day of writing this column, Magistrate Ann McLennan remanded a man for exposing himself to a woman. Interestingly, the prosecutor did not oppose bail. I suggest Ramjattan read about that court case. The day before this article was composed, a Sophia carpenter was remanded for possession of marijuana.
I urged Ramjattan after the torching of the Camp Street prison to speak up against the silly decisions of a majority of magistrates, because their nonsense affects his image. Prominent people called for his resignation. The Commission of Inquiry denounced the frequency of accused being remanded.
Magistrates have continued with their insensitive indiscretions. Magistrates continue to ignore the sociological implications of their misdirected edicts. Khemraj Ramjattan has to know that the class of people on remand for petty crimes consists of poor youths who cannot meet the exorbitant bail impositions. What is it about this country that Ramjattan doesn’t understand? Middle class drug accused, charged with trafficking in hundreds of pounds of cocaine, go to the High Court armed with high-priced lawyers and they get bail.
The judicial system in Guyana from top (High Court) to bottom (magistracy) is biased against the poorer classes. What is it about this sociological law that Ramjattan doesn’t understand? When he did the first part of his law degree at UG, he had to read books about class-based justice in the Caribbean. But even the law books on Caribbean jurisprudence would make mention of that. This man has been a practicing attorney for over two decades, and you mean to tell me he cannot see the infamy of magistrates filling up the prisons with colossal bail assignments and remanding people on very small criminal charges.
Here is my theory on the magistracy that I am repeating for the benefit of the Minister of Public Security. There are two kinds of Guyanese magistrates. One type cannot see the connection sociologists make between prison violence and denial of justice to the poorer classes. I deeply and honestly feel that these are mediocre graduates in law that would not have made it big in private practice; their careers were rescued by becoming magistrates.
They do not have the intellectual grasp to understand Caribbean sociology. Ramjattan’s personal and AFC parliamentary colleague, Charandass Persaud, wrote a public missive describing where a mother was in court to hear her son’s case; the son did not turn up and the magistrate ordered the police to detain the mother on the bench. Ramjattan should be careful that doesn’t happen to a relative of his. Only an untrained magistrate would do such a foolish thing. Ramjattan did not comment on that nonsense. He should have done so in his capacity as Minister of Public Security.
The other category of magistrates is those that are extensively frustrated at career stagnation and they vent their anger on the poor people that come in front of them. Two magistrates that have been on the bench a long time have been turned down in their application for judgeship. Both applied three and four years ago respectively. Ramjattan knows who these two magistrates are. These two magistrates are constantly doing nonsense on the bench because they are frustrated individuals. They will never be elevated to the High Court. I get complaints about these two judicial officials that I should take to the Judicial Service Commission, but I have no faith in my country. Do you, Mister Minister?
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