Bill to expand jurisdiction of Magistrates in civil matters passed in Lower House

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By Latrishka Thomas

The Magistrate’s Code of Procedure (Amendment) Bill 2020 was passed in the Lower House of Parliament on Thursday with no debate.

The Bill is to amend the Magistrate’s Code of Procedure Act, Cap. 255, aimed at increasing the “jurisdiction of the Magistrate Court in civil matters and for other connected purposes.”

One of the amendments gives a magistrate the right to hear matters with claims of up to $25,000.

Minister of Legal Affairs Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin presented the Bill saying that “the magistrates are now competent, have always been, but even now more so than before, and they can handle matters of claims up to $25,000, that’s what this amendment is seeking to do.”

He said that the current law which only allows them to hear matters of up to $15,000 has created a backlog of cases at the High Court.

“What it means therefore Mr Speaker, that any claims above $25,000 would have to be referred to the High Court. We have limited High Court judges. They have so many things to deal with,” the MP for St John’s City South stated.

He added that utilising the five magistrates will expediate the completion of matters.

“Once the work has been properly allocated by the clerk, the managing clerk in the court, people’s cases will be dispensed with within 90 days, three months,” he remarked.

This decision comes about a week after member of parliament for St Peters, Asot Michael, asked the Chief Magistrate to recuse herself from a matter in which he reportedly owed thousands of dollars to an individual.

Michael accused the Chief Magistrate of acting outside of her jurisdiction when she issued a bench warrant due to his absence in court.

Benjamin, who is also the Attorney General, defended the magistrate in parliament, saying that “all of the magistrates, all of them from the chief magistrate right down…they do their work fairly, justly and according to the law.”

He iterated that the magistracy is characterised by its “integrity, independence, well-learned[ness], skill and is not open to influence by any person or body.”

Benjamin further reprimanded any lawyer who “joins a litigant in misleading the court, in misrepresenting the integrity of this institution.”

“[They] must also check their own selves,” he remarked.

Meanwhile, the Recording of Court Proceedings Bill 2020 also passed through the Lower House.

Benjamin also presented this bill.

It states that “the Chief Registrar, Registrar of the High Court or Chief Magistrate shall cause all court proceedings to be recorded… by any means that the court shall direct.”

The Attorney General explained that the measure acts as protection for witnesses.

“What this means therefore Mr Speaker is that a witness can give evidence like in sexual offenses for example, cross-examine, record it and then use it in the court of law giving privacy, giving protection to persons who otherwise might have feared for their lives,” he said.

In addition, the Act allows for the Chief Registrar, Registrar of the High Court or Chief Magistrate to order court proceedings to be transcribed “in any manner or whatever means they deem appropriate.”

However, the transcription can only be done by a certified transcriptionist to ensure accuracy.

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