Smack in the heart of the city of San Fernando is the dilapidated and mosquito-infested old magistrates' court that once stood as a pillar of justice. Constructed in 1931, the historic building which is covered by a yellow tarpaulin is now considered an eyesore. The building has been earmarked for demolition by the Ministry of Works, while a new court is expected to be constructed on the site where the old Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) building once stood at the corner of Sutton Street and Irving Park, San Fernando.
No official timeline has been given for these two projects.
Meanwhile, the magistrates' court has been relocated to the Supreme Court and has been operating on a shift system for the last two years. There has been a plethora of complaints from users, including attorneys and members of the public.
Former national security minister, attorney Subhas Panday who has been practising in the San Fernando courts does not agree with the decision to demolish the court. Panday said it would cost a lot more money to construct a new court and take several years before it is functional. "It is properly engineered and structurally sound, it is an ideal building for a court. The cells (cellblock) are under the courthouse and there is an alley leading to the First and Second Magistrates' Court. The better thing is to refurbish the building. It does not make sense to go all the way to Sutton Street."
Past president of the Assembly of Southern Lawyers Ramesh Deena said while the country celebrated its 57th anniversary of Independence recently, "the legal practitioners and members of society who access the San Fernando Magistrates' Court and the Assizes have little to find any joy or solace in a system that seems to be always on the back-burner of those in authorities." He lamented that the Second, Fourth and Fifth Magistrates' Courts continue to operate in abbreviated sessions. "The sitting magistrates try their best, but it’s a broken system that thus far, time does not seem to cure. Attendances are to mostly secure an adjourned date as there is limited time to conduct full trials. It has become not only frustrating but annoying."
Despite talks, he said, to date not a stone has been turned to indicate any serious move to have a proper functioning magistrates' court.