Sacked magistrate challenges dismissal

-says due process not followed

Omeyana Hamilton has taken legal action against the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) over her recent dismissal from the magistracy, saying she was not afforded a fair hearing and or due process.

The JSC, which is headed by acting Chancellor Carl Singh, terminated her services with effect from March 18.

Hamilton has approached the High Court through attorney Nigel Hughes, seeking various orders including an order directed to the members of the JSC to show cause why a writ of certiorari should not be issued quashing their decision to terminate her services as a magistrate when she was issued no written warning of any inefficiency or misconduct as required by the JSC Rules 2010.

Hamilton was appointed a temporary magistrate in September 2009 and was assigned to Region 6. She was confirmed in September last year and in December placed at Court 6 in Georgetown with additional responsibilities at Bartica.

Hamilton observed in her supporting affidavit that acting Chief Magistrate Priya Sewnarine-Beharry was informed of her inability to travel by way of speedboat, but she was still given all the details pertaining to the Bartica journey.

On January 1, Hamilton said, she informed Justice BS Roy that it would be physically impossible for her to travel to Bartica by speedboat. Two days later, she was summoned to the Chief Magistrate’s chambers and then sent to the Chancellor’s office, where, when asked, she informed him also of her inability to travel by speedboat.

She said the Chancellor told her that by refusing to go by speedboat she was refusing to carry out instructions. He then invited Justice Roy to the meeting and in his presence told her that she had been a good magistrate up until then but was disrupting the system.

Hamilton said she denied that she was disrupting the system and they discussed the option of her travelling by air. Later that same day, the Chancellor informed her via telephone that the cost of the flight to Bartica was $80,000 and was completely out of the question. She said she informed him that she wanted to explore other possible flights.

The following day she received a schedule assigning her to the Bartica Magistrate’s Court for Thursdays and Fridays. The same day, the Chancellor informed her that there were no one seat flights to Bartica and I would “have to get there however I wanted whether by walking, swimming or flying.”

According to Hamilton’s affidavit, he also informed her that no other magistrate had ever refused to use the speed boat, asked her whether she knew what she was doing and said he would call the following morning to see if she was there. “I informed the Chancellor that I was constrained by my physical frailties from travelling by speed boat. I was emotionally traumatised when the Chancellor inferred threats to my employment and I succumbed to extreme migraine headaches,” she further said.

She subsequently attended a doctor who examined her and recommended three days sick leave. She resumed work on January 10 and received a letter from the Chancellor informing her that he was sorry about her headaches and that he was looking forward to her presiding at Bartica to address the problems plaguing the Bartica Magistrates’ Court. She responded to the letter reminding him of her situation. Two days later, she was informed that her letter had been referred to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and that a change in her magisterial responsibilities at the Bartica court was not possible.

On January 13, Hamilton took the ferry to Bartica, arriving at 3 pm and sat on the bench until 6.30 pm. The following day she worked from 9.10 am to 3 pm and remained in Bartica until Sunday, when the ferry was next scheduled to leave. On January 18, she received a memo from the Chief Magistrate asking her to explain in writing why the Bartica court started late on January 13, which she did.

On January 27, Hamilton said she telephoned the acting secretary of the Chancellor and informed her that she was ill and could not work on January 27 and 28. On the same day she also informed the Chief Magistrate when she called to confirm her attendance at a dinner to be hosted by the Chancellor. Hamilton resumed duties on January 31, taking the ferry to Bartica and working similar hours as on the previous occasion.

She subsequently received a second memo from the Chief Magistrate inquiring about her absence on January 27 and 28. She responded in writing that she was ill and had duly reported to the Chancellor’s secretary. On February 21, she was invited to a meeting with the JSC about the Bartica Magistrate’s Court and while waiting to meet the JSC was handed a letter dated February 17 from the Chief Magistrate to the Chancellor complaining of her dissatisfaction with her performance at the Bartica court.

At the JSC meeting with the Chancellor, Chief Justice Ian Chang and Ganga Persaud, Chairman of the Public Service Commission she was asked if she had seen the complaint and what was her  response. When she informed that had just received it she was questioned about various dates from the report and responded.

She was informed that the hearing was preliminary in nature and there was need for any further information or if the JSC was going to take any action she would be told. She then requested time to respond to the allegations and did so on February 28 in writing.

The former magistrate said she continued to travel to Bartica on the ferry and presided at that court on March 3, 4, 17 and 18. On March 22, while presiding at Court 6 she received a letter dated March 18 from the JSC  which informed her: “Consequent upon your reassignment to preside over the Magistrate’s Court at Bartica and having reviewed matters relating thereto and having carefully considered your oral and written responses relating to the said matters and all other relevant matters hereto, the Judicial Service Commission at a meeting held on Thursday 17th  March 2011, decided that your services as a magistrate be terminated with immediate effect.”

The former magistrate said she is informed by her lawyer that the purported letter of termination was among other things in breach of the JSC’s own rules as it failed to inform her of her right to appeal and the time required for making such an application.

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