COMMENTARY: Bench Warrants – Be Still And Know

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By Rawlston Pompey

In every sphere of human interaction, something dramatically develops. These were known to have occurred among members of every strata of society. There are chaotic scenes, often accompanied by a web of confusion. Even as hearts throbs with excitement or amazement, these are to be accepted as all part of the human experience. In institutions of justice, there are also dramatic developments. These undoubtedly, include; (i) …Absconsion; (ii) …Derailment of Court Fixtures; while more specifically, (iii) …Compelling the attendance of persons subject to its jurisdiction by; (a) …Court’s notification; or (b) …Issuance of summonses or Bench warrants.’ There may even be requests by litigants to adjudicators or presiding officers, to recuse themselves from civil hearings that have not started.

FEATURED OCCURRENCE

As has been the human experience, drama has constantly unfolded in the wider society. This has been a ‘Featured Occurrence’ in governmental and non-governmental organizations. The same is also true of public institutions. For instance, in the judicial system, it is not unusual for drama to develop among; (a) …Dissenting officers of the Court and adjudicators; or (b) …Attorneys and attorneys; or (c) …Disagreeable clients and attorneys; (d) …Witnesses and witnesses; or (e) …Prisoners and prisoners.’ While most practitioners operate ‘Legal Chambers,’ such practice has never been the same in representing clients before the Courts. In these practices, one is considered ‘Consultative,’ while the other, ‘Actual Court Practice.’

PERSPECTIVE

As situations demand or circumstances dictate, Judges and Magistrates shall exercise powers that reside with their offices. They shall not only ensure that justice is administrated expeditiously and fairly, but also to address delaying tactics that disguisedly seek to impede the judicial processes. That which attorneys and medical officer shall know, is that adjudicators that sit on the Bench, namely, ‘Judges and Magistrates,’ have associated ‘Jurisdictional Powers.’ These allow for adjudicators to address conduct akin to; (i) …Contempt (High Court only); (ii) …Disrespect; (iii) …Deception; (iv) …Defiance; and (v) …Absconsion.’ This commentary seeks only to provide an understanding as it pertains to; (i) ‘…The issuance of Bench Warrants; (ii) …Reasons for such issuance; and (iii) …What obtains when such Warrants have been executed.’

BELLS OF ALARM

Likened to the ‘Town Crier,’ chanting and ringing his bell, ‘Bells of Alarm’ rang out across the nation, as well as in mainstream and social media. Most local news portals hurriedly scrambled reporters, or in frenzy ringing up sources considered credible for details. Dramatically and sensationally, ‘State-owned Media ABS TV’ headlined the reported issuance of a ‘Bench Warrant’ against embattled parliamentarian ‘Asot A. Michael’ [September 10, 2020]. Startled by the breaking news of the ‘magisterially-issued process,’ citizens, thirsty for details were driven to wild speculations. They were curious to know what the lawmaker had, or may have allegedly done. Incidentally, it was nothing associated with any acts of criminality.

WHAT OBTAINS

It was a ‘magisterial compensatory tortuous claim of some EC$15, 000,’ the ‘Respondent’ was contesting. To persons of negligible means, this was substantial, but to a person of affluence, it was a claim he reportedly described as ‘outrageous.’ That was among the litigating parties, yet to be judicially settled within the Magistracy. It is unthinkable that a ‘Respondent’ would risk restrictions to his liberty as to be as seen running riot with ‘…Ignorance; … Arrogance; or …Disobedience.’ In the eyes of Courts, these have not only been deemed ‘contemptuous,’ but also to be accorded ‘reformatory punishment.’

NO INDIGNITIES

In cases where persons had absconded from the Court’s jurisdiction, they were often subjected to; (a) ‘…Bench arrest;  (b) …Forcefully fitted with wrists restraint bracelets; (c) …Carted off to Court; or (d) …Kept in open Court seated on the prisoner’s bench; (e) …Placed in the Court’s holding cell; or (f) …Ordered confined to a police lockup.’ Fortunately, the ‘Respondent’ suffered no indignities of arrest as often been associated with the execution of ‘Bench Warrants.’ Fearing the worst, the ‘Respondent’ was reported to have requested the issuing Magistrate recusal from the proceedings.

NON-ATTENDANCE

Not infrequently, some attorneys and litigants- ‘plaintiffs and respondents’ have found themselves unmindful of the ‘Court’s Fixtures.’ The most troubling of these, however, has been ‘Non-attendance’ of persons duly summoned to attend Court for criminal trials or civil hearings.’ Certain strategy has often prompted or provoked adjudicators into the issuance of ‘Bench Warrants.’ The Court not only commands, but also forces the attendance by arrest of persons that have inexcusably absent. It is even more troubling should the Court view as dubious, ‘medical documents’ submitted for its consideration and further adjournments. Most adjudicators are invariably guided by the legal maxim that unambiguously states, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’

DELIGHT IN COURT DELAYS

It is a societal-held belief that some legal practitioners ‘Delight in Court Delays.’ It is also believed that a small number of medical officers may have been unsuspectingly used as facilitators. Invariably, such has been proven to be problematic to many litigants. There also those harboring the belief, albeit erroneously, that likened to the ‘harvesting of honey,’ such delaying tactic is capable of being described as ‘deceptively fleecing clients.’ There has been occasional reference to the legal experiences of ‘former ‘FRSC’s Director Leroy King.’ He is reportedly languishing in a foreign penitentiary ‘pennilessly, haplessly and hopelessly.’

MANIPULATED STRATEGY

The other vexing case is that of the inordinate delay in bring closure to the alleged ‘tragic hit and run vehicular/pedestrian accident.’ The tragedy has reportedly ‘orphaned 9 children mothered by former Cedar Grove resident, Andrea Hughes 32’ [MARCH 28, 2014-]. Most people now see the delay in some judicial matters as speaking to an apparent ‘Manipulative Strategy,’ being employed against indigent litigants through the judicial system.’ Though cloaked in legality, not every adjudicator is amused by such troubling professional acts. Since rules are capable of being changed as situations demand, so too is the mentality of these practitioners. Most know that ‘Courts’ require those in attendance, or commanded, or notified to attend hearings fixed by the Court, practitioners appearing before them shall strictly adhere to the ‘Rules and Procedures.’

BENCH WARRANTS

Starting the discussion, it is important to understand the definition of a ‘Bench Warrant.’ From professional law enforcement knowledge, ‘A ‘Bench Warrant’ constitutes a written authority issued by a ‘Magistrate or Judge,’ ordering; (a) ‘…The arrest of a person having business to do at the Court; and (b) …Bringing the absconder forthwith before the Court.’ Legal practitioners are not only expected to be au fait with ‘Rules of the Court,’ but also to properly guide themselves, and as far as practicable submit to the ‘Court’s; (a) ‘…Jurisdiction; (b) …Fixtures; and (c) …Notifications.’ Such person having; (i) ‘…Such business before the Court; (ii) …Having been judicially summoned/notified; and (iii) …Absconded,’ exposes himself to ‘Consequential Peril.’

BAIL OR REMAND

In the case of persons arrested on ‘Bench Warrants’ for absconsion, they are conveyed to the ‘Magistrate’s Court.’ There, the question of ‘Bail’ may arise. If such bail is offered or granted, a defendant upon satisfaction of stipulated ‘Bail Conditions,’ enters into ‘Recognizance.’ He/she is given clearly to understand that without further notification, he/she shall attend Court on the fixed date and time.’ If bail is denied, the ‘absconder’ is ordered to be remanded to prison. Having been so remanded, there have never been difficulties with absconsion. The Court’s records would show the whereabouts of those subject to its jurisdiction.

CONSEQUENTIAL PERIL

It matters not the social, financial or professional status of persons having business at the Courts, all are subject to its jurisdictions. In the case of ‘Magistrate’s Courts,’ persistent failure to attend hearings may set the stage for absconders to be subjected to ‘Consequential Peril.’ Such may include; (a) ‘…Issuance of a Bench Warrant; (b) …Instantaneous punishment of; (c) ‘…A forthwith payable fine; or (d) …Brief custodial sentence at prison; or (e) …Brief holding at a police cell; or (f) …Brief stay on the prisoner’s bench.’ These are not only always at the disposal and discretion of adjudicators, but also ‘always under applicable consideration.’

MISCONCEPTION

Given the applicability of such consequences, it may be seen as a ‘Misconception’ or an erroneously harbored belief that powers residing with ‘Magistrates’ limit them to the issuance of ‘Bench Warrants’ only in criminal proceedings. Such appeared to have been harbored by persons starved of knowledge. Such powers guide the behavior of any person subject to the Court’s jurisdictions. Some people would have been reckless not to know that the exercise of such powers provides for adjudicators to compel attendance and discourage disorderly behavior’ in; (a) ‘…The face of the Court; or (b) …Within its confines; or (c) …Respect for its decisions.’ This is so, even when justice appeared to have been ‘impregnated by travesty,’ thereby necessitating visitations by an appellate Court- ‘Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) or The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC).’

GOOD MAGISTERIAL SENSE

Likened to the rest of the ‘British and some non-Commonwealth nations,’ all persons are not only subject to the Court’s jurisdiction, but also equal before it. That said litigants shall know that Courts are not necessarily concerned with advice sought and offered to clients or instructions taken by practicing attorneys.  It is to public knowledge that adjudicators are more concerned with; (a) ‘…Matters before the Court; (b) …Physical attendance of those concerned with such matters.’ In the case of ‘Respondent,’ consequent upon the legal services of attorney ‘Kenny Kentish,’ he reportedly craved the Court’s indulgence with an undertaking. Such was to ensure that the ‘Respondent’ surrendered to the jurisdiction of the Court.

DUPED OR VICTIMIZED

As opposed to reckless disregard to ‘Fixtures of the Court,’ the Court-recognized litigant, ‘Asot A. Michael,’ may possibly have been; (a) ‘…Duped or misguided; or (b) …Victimized by suspect or questionable medical or legal advice.’ In spite of these possibilities, none may impute motive of complicity on the part of these respected and trustworthy professionals. In the instant Case, though the issuance of the ‘Bench Warrant’ was not in any way associated with acts of criminality, the ‘Respondent’ in litigious proceedings had reportedly failed to appear before ‘Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh’ at the Magisterial District ‘A’ Court [September 10, 2020].

PATTERN OF BEHAVIOR

Contrary to harbored belief, an adjudicator may draw reasonable inferences from professional conduct that speaks to a developing or established ‘Pattern of Behavior.’ Since Magistrates have no expertise in medicine, they often seek ‘Medical Guidance’ from the attending physicians. In the instant case, that which appeared to have engaged the attention of the Court, had been two apparent vexing issues; (i) ‘…Persistent absence of the Respondent; and (ii) …Persistent submission of Medical Certificates.’  Litigants, Plaintiffs or Respondents with proceedings pending before the ‘Court,’ be it; (a) ‘…Summary; or (b) …Civil; …Jurisdiction,’ who frequently caused ‘…Certificates of Sickness’ to be submitted to the Court, runs the risk of adjudicators harboring reasonable suspicion about their medical condition.

PROFESSIONAL EXPERTISE

Likened to the well known cliché, ‘Where there is smoke there is fire.’ With signatures to certain medical documents that showed ‘persistent frequency,’ such increased the possibility for attending medical practitioners to be instantaneously summoned from their Clinics. Though not frequently, this was for the purposes of clearing up any ‘harbored suspicion’ that adjudicators may have considered necessary for magisterial guidance. Whether legal or medical, practitioners shall know that they not only have a responsibility to their ‘…clients or patients,’ but also a moral duty in assisting and guiding Courts with their ‘Professional Expertise.’ This not only helps in discouraging ‘behavior,’ capable of being seen as adverse to the interest of clients or patients, but also helps in averting negative impact on the Court’s ability in expediting the administration of justice.

RESOLUTION OF STERNESS

Even with a ‘Resolution of Sternness,’ seemingly guided by the ‘Spirit of Law,’ but clearly in ‘good faith, Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh’ unhesitatingly obliged. An aborted attempt to execute the ‘Warrant,’ saw its eventual recall. As fate often has it, ‘Good Magisterial Sense’ prevailed. Except Warrants specifically issued to ‘Enter and Search’ private premises for persons or illegally possessed and concealed property, the scene  may have been chaotic had the gates to the private residence allowed for easy access. The attorney, ‘Kenny Kentish’ had successfully averted the inevitability of consequences associated with absconsion. This reportedly occurred mere hours after another practicing attorney appeared to have feigned ignorance that powers reside with Magistrates in issuing ‘Bench Warrants’ in ‘non-criminal proceedings.’ Forceful and insistent as he may have been, he appeared not to have been able to convince the ‘Chief Magistrate’ that no such powers reside with the Magistracy.

PRECISE LANGUAGE

Within this jurisdiction, as in most of the ‘Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), it pertains to the opening of the ‘Magistrates’ Court,’ this is said in ‘Precise Language.’ Those that are deemed to know or might be considered reckless not to know include; (i) ‘…Attorneys-at-law; (ii) …Defendants and witnesses; (iii) …Litigants- (a) …Plaintiffs; and (b) …Respondents.’ Most in attendance, would have heard ‘Court’s Orderlies’ loudly and audibly saying; ‘…Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! ‘…All persons having any business at the Magistrate’s Court of; (a) …Summary; (b) …Civil; and (c) Criminal jurisdiction; (iv) …Draw near and give your attendance; (v) …By command of the Court; …God Save The Queen.’ Then names of the parties would have been called ‘three times.’

COMMANDED ATTENDANCE

In such opening, among the operative words are; (i) ‘…Persons having business.’ Except for edification, ‘blabbermouths’ with no business before the Court should utilize their time more productively. (ii) …Those with business shall draw near; (iii) …Their physical attendance is all that is desired of the Court.’ Then in forceful judicial language, those with business are told (iv) ‘…By command of the Court.’  To attend, is to show regard and/or respect to the ‘Command of the Court’ and humble submission to its jurisdiction. None, therefore, shall consider their ‘Commanded Attendance’ at, or absence from the Court, a ‘social invitation to attend’ and a privilege to be absent.’ A person absenting him/herself from the Court’s jurisdiction without justifiable explanations or acceptable reasons,’ or to offer an apology satisfactory to the Court, places him/herself at peril, yet at the mercy of the Court.

RISK OF PERIL

In the case of a plaintiff, should Courts be given reasons to be believe that a Plaintiff had no further interest in a hearing, it may struck the case from its calendar. Conversely, to attend or not attend, has never been a prerogative of ‘Respondents in litigious proceedings. When summoned or notified, whether or not the plaintiff is in attendance, a ‘Respondent’ has a duty to attend. He/she shall be present to hear and know what is to transpire or eventually transpired. Failing which, ‘Respondents’ run the ‘Risk of Peril.’ Therefore, whether by (a) ‘…Medical Certification; or (b) …Legal representation,’ practitioners shall not be seen as directly or indirectly engaged in practices capable of being described as complicit. This is either viewed by employers as encouraging ‘absenteeism in the workplace; and by adjudicators as facilitating ‘absconsion’ of offending litigants or Respondents from the jurisdiction of the Court.

APPREHENSION AND ATTENDANCE

The non-attendance of the ‘Respondent’ may have been viewed as an exhibition of scant regard to the Court. Moreover, if it was perceived that the ‘offending litigant’ had disguisedly smart under ‘medical or legal advice,’ it may have provoked the adjudicator into invoking ‘The Riot Act.’ Thus, ‘Coronavirus or not, apart from the Court has shown clear resolve in ensuring that the ‘Wheels of Justice Spin.’ Moreover, it has also been its resole to encourage members of civil society to show respect and regard to the ‘Rule of Law.’ Therefore, in addressing issues of absconsion, irrespective of social or physical distance guidelines,’ the ‘Apprehension and Attendance’ of the ‘Respondent,’ had been given magisterial urgency.

CONCLUSION

From these developments, what every ‘practicing attorney and medical practitioner’ shall know, is that persons duly notified or summoned to attend any Court proceedings, the submission of ‘Sick Certificates’ has never precluded Courts from issuing ‘Bench Warrants’ to command immediate attendance. Consequent upon this, they shall present no opportunities for Courts to scrutinize with ‘hawk’s eyes,’ Medical Certificates that may give rise to suspicion of complicity or deception. Therefore, these practitioners shall know that persistently issuing and submitting such ‘Medical Certificates,’ may show conclusively that such courses of action were either intended to; (a) ‘…Facilitate Absconsion;’ or (b) …Cause unnecessary delays in the timely administration of justice. In the eyes of the Court, such practices may not only have implications for; (i) ‘…The integrity of their professional practices; (ii) …The admissibility and believability of such documents; but also (iii) …Their reputation for truthfulness.’ Lessons can be learned by oth

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2 COMMENTS

  1. As usual great article Rawlston Pompey. Keep up the commendable work of educating the public on certain legal matters, since knowledge and education is really useless unless it serves the society. You are putting your years of law enforcement knowledge to the service of the society. Keep it up.

  2. Mr. Pompey, though I agree with you in general, you are wrong on this specific case. Madam Walsh overreached. I base my conclusion on not only her stepping down, but also her not taking action against him for directly sending her that letter. It also signals there is a personal issue between those two which suggests she should not have been involved in the trail (conflict of interest). It is well known, this is not the first time, this magistrate took action based on emotions hence not used her head. One of many examples was the 2012 Sanjeev Datadin swearing in, which she officiated, which you yourself pointed out was illegal. It may be time for this Justin Simon appointee to be removed.

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