City Magistrate Ann McLennan yesterday ordered the public out of her courtroom after a phone rang during an ongoing session and the owner refused to identify himself.
After the cellphone began ringing, Magistrate McLennan immediately directed the court orderly to seize the device.
Once a cellphone belonging to members of the public ring in court, the magistrate usually orders that the device be seized until the court is adjourned for the day.
Section 64 (1) of Cap 3:05 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Magistrates) Act provides that, “Every-one who willfully insults a magistrate, or is guilty of any other grave misconduct during the hearing of any cause or matter, whether civil or criminal, may, on a verbal order of the magistrate, be remov-ed, by force if necessary, from the court, and may further be detained, under a warrant for that purpose, in the nearest lock-up or place of detention for any term not exceeding seven days, unless sooner discharged by the magistrate.”
In addition, members of the public are usually ordered out of the court during the hearing of in-camera matters.
However, yesterday’s events were unprecedented when the magistrate ordered all members of the public, including the media, out of the courtroom when the owner of the ringing cellphone refused to identify himself and hand over the phone to the orderly.
“Look orderly, let those people go outside. Line everybody up and let them go outside if you can’t find whose phone it was, was ringing,” the magistrate ordered.
Members of the press remained seated, however, as they continued to take notes for the cases that were still being called.
But when the magistrate raised her head and saw that persons were still seated in the public gallery, she immediately enquired from the orderly about it.
“Why am I still seeing those people sitting at the back there? I thought I said everybody out of the courtroom,” she said.
“These are members of the media, Madame,” the orderly told her.
“So? They are not people too?! I said to get all those people out of here, so they too have to leave!” the magistrate then loudly replied.
The owner of the phone was eventually identified as a relative of John Rudolph Singh, the owner of the Guyana Variety Store and Nut Centre, who was due to be sentenced yesterday. He later claimed he was not acquainted with the rules of the court as it was his first time there and was at the time attempting to turn the phone off when it resounded in the courtroom.
In the crowded hallway outside the courtroom, members of the public bemoaned the manner in which the presiding magistrate dealt with the situation and questioned why everyone had to pay for the act of just one person. Some termed her actions “harsh,” especially since elderly persons were made to stand outside for the better part of the morning until whatever matter they were waiting for was called. It had also rained in the morning and the benches below the stairs where persons could have found seats were partially wet. Additionally, most of the dry seats were occupied by persons waiting to conduct transactions at the maintenance office.
Persons ordered out of the courtroom were resultantly left with no alternative but to endure the wait in the hallway. Some persons were apprehensive about venturing further to find seats for fear of their matters being called and warrants being issued for their arrest if they were not there to answer their names.
The court orderly later said that the phone was eventually handed over to him but persons were still unable to enter the courtroom. It was not until some two hours after that persons were observed being able to re-enter. It was not clear whether the magistrate had ordered the ban to be lifted, but persons were seen accessing the court unhindered some hours after. By this time however, the morning’s cases had already been heard, including Singh’s.