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Chief Magistrate faces disciplinary charges
Tuesday, November 9th 2004
Assassin - Former Chief Magistrate, Juliet Holder-Allen.
The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has instituted disciplinary charges against Chief Magistrate Juliet Holder-Allen following complaints against her and has asked Justice of Appeal Claudette Singh to inquire into them and, if proven, to recommend the appropriate penalty.

Highly-placed sources told Stabroek News the proceedings stem from a letter sent by the JSC to the Chief Magistrate on October 1, 2004 detailing several allegations of misconduct against her.

The sources say that these allegations relate to several issues: 

comments made by Holder-Allen in the Kaieteur News (KN) about the Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard; 

a statement made by Holder-Allen in Kaieteur News where she allegedly threatened not to resume sittings; 

a complaint against her by Human Services Minister, Bibi Shadick; 

an allegation by a Ms Duff that Holder-Allen used offensive language in her court and 

a complaint by another magistrate that Holder-Allen interfered with a decision.

Responding to the allegations raised made against her, the Chief Magistrate replied to the JSC on the 7th of October setting out her positions. In relation to the complaint laid by Chancellor Bernard against her, the Chief Magistrate said she was merely commenting to KN on remarks made in relation to her by the Chancellor.

"My comment was an expression of my opinion and was not intended to give the impression that Her Honour, the Chancellor was uneducated or unlearned. In fact I did say that in my opinion the Learned Chancellor and myself had training in different branches of the law", the Chief Magistrate wrote, according to sources.

She said it had not been her intention to insult the Chancellor by the statement "and I do regret if such might have been the effect".

With respect to the second allegation that she threatened not to resume sittings, the Chief Magistrate said "the (KN) newspaper article was written in the words and style of the reporter. The words used were designed to catch the eye and interest of the reading public. That is the way of their business. The only question that needs to be asked of me is whether I did in fact say the offending words or held the interview. To this my answer is simply 'no'".

The Chief Magistrate explained that on the day in question she had returned to her court after her vacation and after entering her chambers had found some administrative problems including the presence of some strange documents in her book case which raised questions about who had had access to the keys.

She said that since the starting time for court was affected she decided to have all the matters before her dealt with in Court Two that day.

"I have always made sure that the works of the Magistrates' Courts are carried on, despite the most adverse conditions", she said.

With respect to the complaint by Minister Shadick which pertained to a call that the Chief Magistrate allegedly made to her, Holder-Allen said "the Honourable Minister and myself are not friends of any kind and certainly we do not call each other at all on the telephone.

The Honourable Minister cannot profess to be an authority on what my voice may sound like over the telephone since I have never made any telephone call to her whatsoever. The telephone number referred to in the complaint does not belong to me neither do I have any interest in it."

As to Ms Duff's allegation, the Chief Magistrate said the complaint was mischievous.

In relation to an allegation that she had interfered with a decision rendered by Magistrate Bertlyn Reynolds, Holder-Allen said that Reynolds had already made her decision and she was "merely offering her the benefit of my `experience' in such cases". She added that the practice of discussing law, decisions made and experience applied is a vital part of the profession.

"The Commission need not be overly worried. To be sure Ms Reynolds will never more have access to my knowledge and experience in dealing with matters, ever again, not under this sun.", the Chief Magistrate wrote.

Before addressing the complaints, the Chief Magistrate in her letter to the JSC outlined her longstanding concerns that she had been bypassed for promotion to judgeship and noted that she had had cause to lodge a complaint with the Resident Representative of the United Nations several years ago. She said she had submitted evidence of bias and acts of discrimination against her on the grounds of her race and sex.

"For many years I have observed junior magistrates enjoying rapid promotions within the system and being promoted to the Higher bench ahead of me, all in blatant breaches of industrial relations and public service rules relating to seniority and equality". The Chief Magistrate said in the letter that no grounds ever existed for her to be bypassed for promotional opportunities.

She cited the case of two recent judicial appointments and noted that she had not been considered for one of these posts during the deliberations by the JSC. "Clearly, I would consider that an injury has been perpetuated against me, if the tribunal charged with the legal responsibility of considering my promotional prospects had acted in such a manner as to deny me a higher appointment and thereby deprived me of the right to enjoy a higher standard of living", the Chief Magistrate wrote.

She further contended in her letter that the Chief Justice is the Head of the Supreme Court and that any complaint against a magistrate should first be investigated by him before being referred to the JSC.

Legal sources close to the Chief Magistrate have also argued that the JSC should not delegate to Justice Singh what they the members have been mandated to do under the oath they have taken.

Following her October 7 response, the Chief Magistrate received a letter from the JSC dated November 1 saying her reply had been considered and that the JSC had decided to institute disciplinary charges against her. It also advised that Justice Singh had been deputed to undertake the inquiry into the charges.