BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – THE short-lived suspension of prosecutorial services to Magistrate Donna Harris’ Court was lifted on Tuesday (Feb. 5) following a meeting that was initiated by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Valston Graham.
The suspension of prosecutorial services, along with Court Orderlies, to Magistrate Harris’ Court was a decision taken by the DPP following the ejection of a Crown Counsel from her Court during a criminal hearing on Monday (Feb. 4).
However, no details were provided on what triggered the Magistrate’s alleged action, and the name of the Crown Counsel was not provided by the DPP.
In addition to his decision, the DPP reportedly wrote to Acting Chief Magistrate Renold Benjamin for an urgent meeting on the matter.
The meeting was held on the following day, reportedly among the DPP, Magistrate Harris, Acting Chief Magistrate Benjamin and a number of other senior officials of the legal fraternity, where a decision was taken for Prosecutors and Court Orderlies to resume services at Magistrate Harris’ Court.
In an interview with WINN FM, prior to the meeting, the DPP reportedly said that the move was justified as he was fed up with the Magistrate's disrespect toward prosecutors that went before her.
“I need to make something very clear. I would never be an obstructionist to justice. My job is the furtherance of the delivery of justice in this Federation. So when I took the decision today to suspend my prosecutors and court orderlies from appearing before Magistrate Harris, it was done with proper justification in my view. I will meet with Senior Magistrate Mr. Benjamin and I will try to resolve the issue, but I find it intolerable the behaviour of Magistrate Harris. You cannot insult, ridicule and denigrate the prosecutors that appear before you and without justification. I have tolerated it long enough, I am not putting up with it anymore. Until the Magistrate gets it right and until I am satisfied that my prosecutors are going to be treated with respect, I’m sending no prosecutor back before her. It’s as simple as that,” WINN FM quoted the DPP as saying.
A press release issued by Dahlia Joseph Rowe, President of the St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association, had made public its support of the decision taken by the DPP.
The release stated: “On Monday February 4, 2019 a most unfortunate incident occurred concerning a member of the legal profession and Magistrate Donna Harris which resulted in the Her Honor demanding that the member of the legal profession leave the court room.
“This occurrence raises serious issues which go to the heart of the administration of justice in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. The Bar Association is satisfied that the occurrence is by no means an isolated one.”
It also stated that members of the legal profession had repeatedly expressed their dissatisfaction with the manner, unbecoming of a Magistrate, in which Magistrate Harris addresses and conducts herself towards lawyers appearing before her.
It continued: “The St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association wholeheartedly supports the DPP in his decision. The St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association is mandated by law to among other things:
1. promote good relations within the profession and between the profession and persons concerned in the administration of justice in Saint Christopher and Nevis;
2. promote, maintain and support the administration of justice and the rule of law;
3. maintain the honour and independence of the Bar in its relations with the judiciary and the executive.”
The release noted that while members of the Bar Association appreciate that every judicial officer has the prerogative within the law to manage his or her Court as he or she deems appropriate, “we also recognize that Attorneys-at-Law are also officers of the Court and that mutual respect between Bench and Bar is paramount in furthering the proper administration of justice”.
It further noted that the public deserves to have full confidence in the Federation’s justice system and that the “Association is monitoring the situation and trusts that it will be swiftly resolved in the best interests of the rule of law”.