“Disclosure that a judge has been suspended from office has a prime news element that is universal … it is not unreasonable to propose that suspension of a judge engenders disgrace and dishonour on him; and even if eventually he should be cleared of the allegation made against him, the social stigma caused by the suspension is never wholly eradicated.”
Those comments are part of the opening speech of Chief Justice Bishop, as he delivered a judgment in the case of Barnwell v AG of Guyana in 1994. Among other things, Justice Bishop sought to highlight the importance and respect with which the office of judge is endowed. And even though the office of a judge is superior to that of a magistrate, I am of the opinion that Justice Bishop’s observations with respect to the impact of any disciplinary action taken against a judge, is no different when taken against a magistrate.
Indeed, it was pointed out that the taking of disciplinary action against a judge was a rare and sometimes unheard of event.
As a matter of fact, Justice Kennard sitting in the aforementioned case of Barnwell v AG of Guyana, pointed out that prior to that case, the only known instance when a judge was removed from office in this country was in 1868 when Chief Justice Beaumont acting against the interest of the planter class and in favour of a section of the working class, was dishonourably removed.
I believe that Justice Barnwell was eventually cleared of the allegation made against him and it was not until earlier this year (2014), some two decades later that another judge in the person of justice Rabi Sukul left office in allegedly cloudy circumstances.
They say that the genesis of that matter is engaging the attention of the courts even though in another country, and ought not to be discussed here; suffice it to say that while the allegation against Justice Beaumont seemed not to have anything to do with professional impropriety, those against Barnwell and Sukul were said to be flavoured with a breach of their oath of office.
The submission by Justice Kennard that the taking of disciplinary action against a judge is a rare event, is beyond debate, but it seems to me that doing the same to magistrates has now become fashionable. Disciplinary action against magistrates is so frequent these days that I am inclined to believe that something must be wrong with the process of recruitment for this high and most prestigious office. The relevant authority has had reason to sanction from the most senior to the most junior magistrate, and the action taken ranged from suspension to dismissal.
How much more dishonouring can their conduct become? ‘And even though they are usually cleared of the allegations made against them, the social stigma caused by such disciplinary action may never be erased from the minds of the public.’
Concerns have been raised about the apparent irrational sentencing policies exhibited at the level of the magistracy, but the concerns about the moral fibre of some magistrates are far more disturbing. The cases involving disciplinary action should signal to the relevant authorities that something might be wrong with the selection process for magistrates. If that is true, let’s correct it right now.