Local Attorney, Ashley Bernadine has come to the defence of Magistrate, Jerry Seales who in the past week has come in for a barrage of criticisms from President of the Grenada Bar Association (GBA), Ruggles Ferguson.
In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY newspaper, Bernadine said that his legal colleague might have some merit in what he told reporters at a recent press conference about the Magistrate but believes that what Seales is doing has been long incoming.
He also said that Ferguson chose the wrong forum to air his issues with the Magistrate and could have used a different method to address the issue.
Ferguson held a press conference at his office, Ciboney Chambers to express his disgust over the manner in which Magistrate Seales was handing down sentences especially against bus drivers who came before him on traffic offences.
THE GBA boss suggested that Seales was unfit for the job since other lawyers had similar complaints about him and called for the Magistrate to step down from the position.
However, Bernadine said the statements made by Ferguson was merely his own comments and was not the proper approach to be used in addressing the issue.
“…We could have engaged in dialogue …. and discuss whatever problems they may be having because these problems didn’t just recently occur”, he remarked.
He suggested that the Jerry Seales matter could have been taken by Ferguson to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC), the body that appoints Magistrates and Judges.
According to Bernadine, the Bus operators act as a law onto themselves and what Seales was doing is merely enforcing the law.
“There is a certain amount of public trust that should be there, their (bus operators) duty (is) to look after the children, senior citizens and everybody who use the nation’s roads but they drive with impunity, they do not obey the laws in terms of where they should stop, where they should pick up passengers, where they should let them out as the case may be.
“Nobody can’t say they haven’t had problems and complaints about that, so this has become lawless as a result the police, they have had many charges against them and most of them carry convictions for offences; for breaking the traffic regulation and they have not been paying, so it has become as a joke now. One told me last week he got charge for the same offence three times in the same day.
“What Mr. Seales has done, he is not applying things across the board to everybody who commit a traffic offence but he is dealing with those delinquent offenders, particularly bus drivers who have been flaunting the law, so what he did, I think he charged a gentleman $1000.00 but when you check it, this gentleman has a series of similar offences and other offences – that he has not paid because they take it as a joke.
In defending Seales, Bernadine said that the Magistrate was acting within the law and was lenient with the fine that was imposed on the bus operator.
He went on to say: “Seales was within the law, in the sense that the maximum was $1500.00 but he charged him $1000.00. Where I believe he made the mistake was, under the criminal procedure, the code says if you going to charge a man a substantial fine and you want him to pay it immediately at least you should inquire as regards to if he has the means to pay that immediately (and) so to give him some time.
“… I think that Seales was so indignant when he read the charge sheets and he saw the list of convictions … I am not in his (Seales) mind I can only say he acted that way, so he could have given him a little chance to pay,’ Bernadine told this newspaper.
The lawyer also took offence to the arrogance being shown by some operators in light of threats issued to strike in the face of the clamp down on their behavior by Magistrate Seales.
“They want to go on strike, so in other words leave them to operate as a law unto themselves? And then you meet members of the public who suffer under their hands, agreeing with their attitude and behavior.
“The only time we react is when there is a fatal accident of a child or somebody and we all complain about bus drivers and the water has parted for two or three days and then it comes back as if nothing happened.
According to Bernadine, the entire bus system in the country needs to be addressed as the bus operators are doing things with no regard for who or what they obstruct.
“We need to reform the whole bus situation in terms of their dress, their manner, the music they play in the bus, how loud it is, it needs more regulation, in that too much of them use the Grand Anse route.
How do we regulate that?
Bernadine insisted that he is pleased with the approach that is being taken by Magistrate Seales with those bus operators.
“I’m glad you have somebody who is willing to enforce the law a little more, they must have regards to the public use of the road and be more sensitive, just don’t think of themselves and you know you fighting to make a dollar and pick up somebody to make 2 to 3 dollars and the cost of that fine is $150, that doesn’t make sense, it is irrational,” he said.