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Duke threatens to shut down all courts

Day two of protest action in San Fernando
Published: 
Thursday, August 7, 2014

For a second day yesterday the San Fernando Magistrates Court operated with a skeleton staff as administrative staff continued to stay off the job for fear of their health and safety. And in a show of solidarity, several attorneys also stayed away from the court. The staff made the decision not to work after Public Services Association president Watson Duke met with them at the courthouse on Tuesday. They reported for work yesterday morning, signed the registry and then left.

Speaking with the staff on Harris Promenade, San Fernando yesterday, Duke showed them a copy of a letter, which he served on the court executive administrator at the Judiciary yesterday, explaining why they are refusing to work. 

In the letter, Duke asked the Judiciary to provide him with certain documents, including the town and country planning approval, structural engineer report on the building given its age, indoor air quality test, fire certificate, OSHA report of compliance, electrical inspectorate report, report on health surveillance of employees. Duke said the Judiciary had until tomorrow to produce those documents for San Fernando and all the other court buildings in the country.

“If that is not supplied by Friday, the PSA is free to act in defence of its members’ interest and every single courthouse in this country will now be targeted as an unsafe place. They must obey the law.” While the Judiciary has acknowledged that the court operations have to be moved to a new building, he said that was not enough. He said simple things could be done to the existing building such as cleaning the louvres, cleaning the air conditioning vents, mosquito spraying and ensuring the building was structurally stable.

Warning the Judiciary against issuing threats to the staff, he said the PSA was prepared to do whatever it took to do right for the workers even if it meant mortgaging the PSA’s property or taking a bank loan. The PSA, he said, would obey the law, but “if they act illegally and they stop a man’s pay, we may be forced to get illegal too....it will be vigilante justice.” 

While the action did not shut down the entire operations of the courts, no cash transactions could be done and there were only two note-takers to serve the five criminal courts. Deputy Chief Magistrate Mark Wellington presided in the First and Second Courts while Magistrate Natalie Diop dealt with matters in the Fourth and Fifth Courts. The Sixth Court did not sit.

Lawyers boycott
On Tuesday attorney Ainsley Lucky, who was instrumental in getting Duke to visit the courthouse, bemoaned the lack of support he was receiving from his colleagues. However, yesterday attorney Subhas Panday told reporters the attorneys had decided also to stay away. “I am the doing most of the matters. I am holding for my colleagues. In the event that there is an emergency with their clients I will be here,” he explained. 

Recalling that his brother, former prime minister Basdeo Panday, once worked as a note-taker at the court, he said: “Since then, there have been no repairs to the building.”

Consequence of action
Cepep labourer Winston Smith was fined $1,200 for having marijuana, but was unable to pay his fine because there was no cashier at the court. Smith, 56, admitted that PC Ramadin found 6.7 grammes of marijuana in a bag stuck in his pants waist in Pleasantville on Tuesday. Smith was also charged with resisting arrest, but he was reprimanded and discharged on that offence. He said he could pay part of the fine yesterday, but San Fernando Deputy Chief Magistrate Mark Wellington told him:

“We have no cashier, sir. We have nobody to receive cash today.” The magistrate allowed him 21 days to pay the fine or serve three months in jail.