GBA President – forced to speak out against a Magistrate
Attorney at Law, Ruggles Ferguson has accused Magistrate Jerry Seales who currently operates the Traffic Court in the city of abusing his powers and should do the proper thing and resign.
Ferguson, the President of the Grenada Bar Association (GBA), held a press conference on Monday at his office at Ciboney Chambers to express his dissatisfaction over the way the Magistrate was fulfilling his duties.
According to Ferguson, the latest development between Bus Drivers/Conductors and Magistrate Seales has forced him to publicly speak out.
Last Monday, the Number 3 Magistrate’s court, which handles traffic offences was filled with Busmen plying the Grand Anse route with most of them expressing their disbelief over the harsh penalties handed out to them by Magistrate Seales.
THE NEW TODAY understands that in some cases, bus drivers were given fines that had to be paid instantly or suffer the consequences of going to prison.
The unfolding situation resulted in some bus operators threatening strike action because of what they call the injustice that was now being placed upon them by the Traffic Magistrate.
Seales has just taken up duties in the City court due to a recent reshuffle of the Magistrates.
Ferguson charged that over the years, this particular Magistrate has not operated his court in a way that is pleasing to the legal profession.
Jerry Seales – under fire from his one of his colleagues
“It has been of deep concern to several attorneys, persons within the legal system, members of the public and certainly myself with the way Magistrate Seales has been conducting his court over the past few years,” he said.
“The developments last week suggest in no uncertain terms that he has no intention of changing his ways and he seems intent on continuing along a course that would cost the taxpayers of this country tremendous money,” he added.
Ferguson alluded to the huge sums that the Treasury has had to pay based on bad judgements delivered in the past by Seales.
He said it is already costing the State thousands of dollars in compensation because of the number of judgments against Seales at the level of the high court for basic errors committed and irrational decisions and steps taken in his capacity as a Magistrate.
“In a court you may have a person either dissatisfied with a ruling, you go to the appeal court and there may be instances where Magistrates and public officials are challenged on very unique and novel issues of law that you go to the court with but in the case of Magistrate Seales, it’s very basic errors of law that he makes,” the GBA President asserted.
THE NEW TODAY understands that Attorney General, Cajeton Hood had made a move within Cabinet to remove Seales but it was blocked by Minister of Legal Affairs, Elvin Nimrod, considered a close friend of the Magistrate.
A Cabinet insider said that Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell had initially given support to the move against Seales but backed down in the face of opposition from Nimrod, who is the Deputy Prime Minister.
The source indicated that the matter resurfaced at a Cabinet session when Minister Nimrod was out of the country and was apparently endorsed by the Cabinet of Ministers in the presence of PM Mitchell.
She said the Legal Affairs Minister was present at the following Cabinet meeting when the matter had to be seconded to take effect but he raised issue with the Jerry Seales matter being discussed against.
The official quoted Nimrod as saying that he thought the matter was already dealt with before and the Prime Minister and others inside the room reportedly backed off.
An annoyed Ferguson took a swipe at the manner in which Seales was operating on the bench.
He said: “We are still a country governed by a constitution which is the Supreme law and we are a nation that is also governed by law, not the whims and fancies of particular individuals.”
The local bar president expressed fears that if something is not done about the manner in which Seales is operating in court, the taxpayers’ money will always have to be used to clean his “mess”.
He stressed that he alone has nine matters before the high court involving the Magistrate and Seales has been ordered to pay cost anddamages in certain instances.
“I’m not saying that persons who break the law must not be dealt with, that if bus drivers or conductors break the law that they must not be dealt with and they must not face the consequences of whatever infringement of the law they would have committed.
“…Whether you are dealing with a bus driver, a conductor, a public servant, a minor, a professional, from whatever class or strata of the society that you come from, you must follow the rule of law.
“There are laws governing what we do, and you have more so when you are a judicial officer, you must adhere to the rule.
Ferguson accused Magistrate Seales of undermining the confidence in the administration of justice, adding that there is just so much an Attorney can do.
The attorney dropped strong hints that he was not satisfied with the manner in which the Magistrate was interpreting he law and handing down sentences.
He said: “…There are certain circumstances under which you can impose forthwith fines on persons and if those circumstances do not exist, then you cannot do it, in fact what it is, is a jail sentence.
“…Here we have persons admitting that they have assaulted the law and they are pleading guilty but you want them walk (with) their monies in their back pocket, just to avoid going to jail.
“That is just not right by way of common sense and that is just not right by way of law but what he does, he does it in any event, who cares, he does it because he happens to sit in a seat of power and he choose to abuse that power”.
Ferguson is contending that persons must be given an opportunity to pay the fine, if they cannot pay it right then and there.
“If the situation warrants it, you do it, if it warrants a jail sentence you do it, you can’t do it as a matter of course without giving persons the opportunity to be able to pay that fine”, he said
“…And the law says clearly that people must have the opportunity, if they can’t pay the fine and they say they can’t pay the fine, then you have to give them an opportunity to pay the fine because in effect what you would be imposing is not fine but a jail sentence,” he added.
The attorney-at-law also raised concerns with Seales’ approach in dealing with persons who are brought to court by way of Summons and have been put on bail for one reason or the other, which is not usually associated with Summary offences.
“From reports, what he (Seales) has been doing, when you come to court with a summons, the charge is read to you, you plead not guilty – what does he do, he puts you on bail and you have to get sureties so you go down in the cell until you can call all over the place to get sureties to come and stand your bail.
“… You came to court by summons – this is a total abuse of power, not only does he impose bail but cash bail so you have to have your money in your pocket so if that’s not an abuse of power, what is.
“This must stop because the nation will have to pay for it, the tax payers will have to pay for it and they are already having to do with all these judgments against him (in) the high court.
“ So the high court is saying in several instances that this is wrong but does he care, no because he has an ego to satisfy and therefore he has power so he feels he must use the power to his own end and this has to stop.
According to Ferguson, Magistrate Seales has been spoken to and written to many times about his manner of carrying out justice in court but to no avail.
“I do feel strongly that this Magistrate is not a fit and proper person to be sitting on the bench, given all the examples over the years about abuse of power”, he told reporters.
In his capacity as President of the Bar, Ferguson said the issue of Jerry Seales has come up in recent executive meetings and “the position of the bar is to collect all the information and prepare the relevant documents for submission to the appropriate authorities withall the complaints.”
“Magistrates are protected By the Constitution), once the complaints are made, the Judicial and Legal Services Commission in my respectful view has the ultimate authority to recommend to the Governor General
his removal from office,” Ferguson said.