Former Opposition Leader, Michael Baptiste has called on Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell to investigate what he described as the “on the spot fine” that is being issued by Magistrate Jerry Seales on persons appearing before him.
The Magistrate who is presiding over the Traffic Court has been handing down stiff sentences including hefty fines on persons, mostly bus operators who have violated traffic rules.
Baptiste described the “on the spot fine” being imposed by Seales as “unconscionable” and “an act of racism” against locals.
He recalled that some years ago the Grenada Bar Association protested against Jamaican attorney-at-law, Hugh Wildman as being the Attorney General but was adopting a hands-off attitude towards Seales.
“Why is it the Bar Association remaining so silent on the atrocities and the abuse of judicial power that is taking place right here in Grenada at the hands of this Magistrate who, in my opinion is a racist. He traces his roots from Australia, and he is handing down unconscionable sentences on poor, black, vulnerable brothers, some of them without criminal offences,” he said.
“Why is it you’re being so harsh? Is it because you have a revenge against this black people because you offered yourself twice for election and they rejected you?” he asked.
Both Baptiste and Seales were members of the defunct Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) of once formidable Prime Minister, Sir Eric Matthew Gairy.
The two are known to be bitter foes over the person who should have emerged as the successor to Sir Eric.
Baptiste also raised questions about the dual role performed by Seales as a Magistrate and Honorary Consul of South Korea to Grenada.
He questioned at what time of the day is Seales a Magistrate and a diplomat.
In calling for judicial reform in the country, the former Member of Parliament for St. Andrew South-west Baptiste noted that too many young people are held on remand at the Richmond Hill Prisons awaiting trial for a long period of time without any legal representation.
He said that when prisoners on remand are brought to court their cases are not often heard in the Magistrate’s Courts as the Lawyers who are representing different clients will take up most of the duration of the day’s sitting of the court.
He charged that in most instances the Presiding Magistrate is left with no extra time to deal with those matters but to adjourn court for the day.
Baptiste told a local media outlet that accused persons on remand without an attorney are “put back on the cow chain and sent back to Richmond Hill.”
“The constitution says that a man is innocent until he is proven guilty. The way we have it now is that the poor and the vulnerable are guilty until they prove themselves innocent,” he said.
He said recently both of the two main political parties, the New National Party, and the National Democratic Congress were speaking about Constitutional Reform with Grenada becoming a member of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final appellate.
“I want to call on the two parties, let us look at our court system, and let us seriously talk judicial reform, court reform,” he said.
The outspoken Baptiste has declared his intention to be an active participant in the upcoming general election due within the next 12 months.