Two magistrates, Geeta Chandan-Edmond and Chandra Sohan, were yesterday given their marching orders by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), which they have both accused of denying them a fair process.
Chandan-Edmond, who was a serving city magistrate, was said to be discharged from duty due to absenteeism, but a statement from her attorney implied a link between her dismissal and her presiding over the trial of Samuel Hinds Jnr, son of the Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who she was due to sentence yesterday after finding him guilty of assault.
Sohan was said to be fired over issues with records from matters he presided over.
Chandan-Edmond’s attorney, Nigel Hughes, in a statement issued after her dismissal, said the JSC was both complainant and the adjudicator in the proceedings against her and every single allegation was answered and refuted. The statement also indicated that she intends to pursue all legal remedies available to her up to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
According to a source familiar with the proceedings, the JSC, which comprises Chancellor Carl Singh, and retired Justice Prem Persaud and Justice Lennox Perry, sent out orders yesterday for the dismissal of both Chandan-Edmond and Sohan.
In the former’s case, the source said that her dismissal was “in the public interest” and noted that the reason cited was absenteeism, inclusive of leaving the country without permission.
When asked if the magistrate’s guilty ruling in the matter involving Hinds Jnr had anything to do with her dismissal, the source said no. Noting that the JSC commissioners were sworn in September last, the source contended that Chandan-Edmond was before the commission since then over the allegations against her. The notion of her dismissal being linked to her ruling was vehemently dismissed.
However, in a statement, Hughes noted that the JSC wrote to Chandan-Edmond on January 16th, 2014 in relation to absence from a Magistrate’s Association meeting to discuss the Sexual Offences Act, medical leave for two days between the 5th and 7th June, 2013, absence for sick leave, failure to report absence of work to the Chancellor, inability to deliver 19 decisions, failure to respond to queries from the Chief Magistrate and departure from Guyana on January 20th, 2013, without approval.
There was no allegation of misconduct leveled against the magistrate, Hughes noted, before adding that there was no hearing or any invitation to any hearing on the allegations for the entire year of 2014.
However, he said a week after Chandan-Edmond found Samuel Hinds Jnr guilty of unlawful wounding on the February 6th, 2015, the JSC instructed her to attend a hearing on February 18th, 2015.
At the hearing, Hughes said the counsel for the magistrate inquired about the rules under which the JSC intended to deliberate and the procedure to be adopted, particularly whether it was an adversarial or inquisitorial proceeding.
“Counsel further pointed out to the JSC that there was no rule which required the Magistrate to notify the Chancellor and or seek his permission prior to her departure from the Country,” he noted, while pointing out that the JSC conceded that there was no such rule in existence either in the Judicial Service Commission Rules or the Public Service Rules but it said that there was a standard administrative practice that the Chancellor approve her departure.
Hughes said the JSC further informed the magistrate that it was not obliged to specify what procedure it intended to pursue as it was going ahead with the inquiry. “Every single allegation leveled against the Magistrate was answered and refuted with the production of documentary evidence including a letter from the doctor who examined [Ms Chandan-Edmond],” Hughes added.
According to the statement, yesterday, when Hinds Jnr was due to be sentenced, the probation officer was unable to produce the probation report, thereby forcing an adjournment.
It said at 2.15 pm, the Magistrate was informed that “ the Commission therefore considers it both necessary and appropriate, that it is in the public interest that you be forthwith discharged from further magisterial duty.”
In the case of Sohan, the source said that he was fired over inconsistencies with records in the court he was presiding over. Last December, Sohan was suspended by the JSC over allegations which were described as actions “bordering on criminality.”
A source had related to this newspaper that some of the magistrate’s records would have been crossed checked with those of the police as part of the investigation.
Sources close to Sohan yesterday told Stabroek News that he had heard nothing about being dismissed but was on the lookout for his letter of dismissal in the coming days.
Stabroek News understands that Sohan received a letter in January last year summoning him to appear before the JSC and from all indications it was not made clear as to why he was needed.
Subsequently, it was revealed that the magistrate was summoned because he left the country in 2013 without permission, his dealing with a matter while sitting at the Vreed-en-Hoop Magistrate’s Court and discrepancies in written notes taken by himself and the prosecutor who was presiding in his court.
According to a source close to the magistrate, Sohan’s lawyer wrote to the commission after the first letter was sent inquiring about the particulars relating to the court case and the discrepancies. That information was never provided and Sohan did not appear before the commission.
Then on December 2nd, last year, the source said Sohan received a second letter from the JSC instructing him to appear the following day. Sohan did appear on that occasion and was suspended indefinitely. At the time, he was presiding in Court Seven at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts.
Stabroek News was, however, informed that if an inquiry is not held within 60 days then the suspension has to come to an end. Sohan’s lawyer later filed a High Court action challenging his suspension but it was refused. Sohan’s attorney has since appealed that decision.
Last Friday, the source said Sohan received a third letter stating that he was required to appear before the commission on February 18. Sohan did appear and his lawyer indicated that the 60 days permitted for the inquiry had elapsed on February 4.
The source said that the commission in its defence said the rule did not apply in this case. The source said given what transpired during that hearing, the magistrate made in clear that he was not going to participate, especially since he has been unfairly treated.
It was explained that Sohan is disputing that he left the country without permission. The source stated that the magistrate had made an application to proceed on compassionate leave. At the time, the Chancellor was out of the country but Sohan was in contact with his secretary.
According to the source, the Chief Magistrate, who is Sohan’s immediate superior, made the necessary arrangements for him to be released for the time requested. Another magistrate was assigned to Sohan’s court.
The JSC is yet to rule on a complaint on inappropriate behaviour at the Sparendaam Magistrate’s Court by magistrate Alex Moore, who was suspended in November last.