FOR snapping his fingers in court almost four years ago, a magistrate sent a man to jail for 14 days.
Yesterday, a High Court judge said judicial officers cannot allow a “bad day” to affect their approach to sentencing, especially when the liberty of the person before the court is to be taken away.
Yaw Forson, 26, of La Brea, was a defendant in a case in the Point Fortin Magistrates’ Court on June 23, 2014. Prior to that date, the case had been called and adjourned 20 times. During the hearing, Forson snapped his fingers and the magistrate ordered police to arrest him. Forson was then charged with contempt of court and sent to jail for 14 days. In March, attorney Ted Roopnarine, instructed by Mickey Dindial, filed a constitutional motion challenging the magistrate’s decision on the ground that it was too harsh. They also argued that Forson was not given an opportunity to have an attorney represent him on the contempt charge.
The motion outlined 12 grounds of appeal and pleaded for a judge to award compensation, including aggravated and punitive damages.
The State is challenging the legal action and yesterday Seepersad instructed attorneys to file and serve affidavits on or before June 28. Seepersad, however, told attorneys for the State that Section 23 and 24 of the Summary Courts Act empowers the court to impose a $200 fine or imprisonment for 14 days on any person engaged in disruptive conduct in the court.
Saying he had the benefit of listening to the taped recording of the proceedings in the magistrates’ court, Seepersad said, “The exercise of a judicial discretion must be discharged in a manner that is not arbitrary or irrational. A judicial officer cannot allow a bad day to affect his or her sentencing approach and the fundamental rights of citizens cannot be viewed dismissively. An arbitrary exercise of judicial discretion can negatively impact on the public’s regard for the administration of justice.”
The matter was adjourned to July 11.