Partial services resume at St. John’s Magistrates’ Court

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The processing of child maintenance payments, disbursement of cheques, payment of bail and fines resumed yesterday at the St. John’s Magistrates’ Court which was closed early on Monday and entirely on Tuesday.

The closure was done as preparations were being made for staff to relocate to a new building in Knuckle Block, Gray’s Farm. But there was some confusion as to whether there was any approval of the closure from those in authority.

The court reopened yesterday morning on the order of Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh and Permanent Secretary Hildred Simpson who met with staff on Monday, prior to the closure.

After this was done, several staff told OBSERVER media they were perturbed by the latest decision, since – according to them – it was agreed in Monday’s meeting that they would close operations for the week to allow staff to pack and until the relocation was completed.

“I guess we were fooled because the meeting was on April 1st, All Fools Day, so when we thought we would have the time to pack and leave, we have to resume working. And now we are hearing we might not even be moving by next week Friday and it would take longer than that,” an employee said yesterday.

The worker said the staff were actually baffled since Tuesday when they were approached by a court official who threatened that if they did not resume working they would be transferred.

The worker said all the staff who were in Monday’s meeting left with the same view that operations would cease, except for the Chief Magistrate’s court and bail for new cases.

Yesterday morning they were told to remove the sign informing the public of the closure, and they did so. All the cashiers resumed duties, workers said.

The Chief Magistrate confirmed she gave the order for the sign to be taken down, as she indicated the court was not closed entirely.

She said her courtroom continues to function, although the administrative and registry staff were readying the equipment and other materials for the relocation.

Walsh said they cannot be expected to work while packing, but operations will continue for critical matters such as bail and new cases.

But that’s only a very small part of the services provided at the St. John’s Magistrates’ Court.

For the week so far, Magistrate Conliffe Clarke has not been sitting in his court and new cases for his district are being sent to the Chief Magistrate as agreed.

All other matters pending in the system have been adjourned. Depositions for cases which have to be sent to the High Court are not being processed.

For several months, staff of the St. John’s Magistrate’s Court have been working half day due to the unbearable conditions at the building on High and Temple streets. These include mould, a leaking roof and inadequate toilet facilities, among other things.

In December 2018, the workers – through their union – wrote to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Legal Affairs. The authorities were then given three months to relocate the workers.

That period ran out at the end of March, but the relocation is only now being planned and arranged.

This week, the workers started packing and when OBSERVER media visited the court it was told the court was closed.

Reporters were also directed to a sign at the entrance which read, “THE GENERAL PUBLIC IS ASKED TO TAKE NOTE THAT THE MAGISTRATES’ COURT WILL BE CLOSED FOR RELOCATION EFFECTIVE TUESDAY 2nd APRIL 2019 UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”

Residents who went to the court were also turned away, and some of them expressed their outrage to OBSERVER.

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