PRAKASH RAMADHAR, St Augustine MP, almost accused an unnamed magistrate of spitefully shutting down a rumshop owned by one of Ramadhar's close relatives by imposing so many conditions on it.
He shared the personal anecdote last Friday as the House of Representatives debated a bill to enhance the protection that magistrates enjoy from personal lawsuit for judgements they make that are eventually found to be beyond their jurisdiction.
The bill proposes that in order to sue, a litigant must first prove that the magistrate acted with malice, a feat that Ramadhar said was “an almost insurmountable impediment” which he hoped Government would reconsider.
He said malice would be indicated only in the rare event of, say, a magistrate letting slip from his lips veiled threats like: “I’ll bust a jail on you.”
Ramadhar, an attorney, related a case he was involved in at Arima Magistrates' Court some years ago. While things went smoothly at first, when he decided to seek judicial review of the proceedings, he noticed a sudden change in the magistrate’s tone and attitude. “We’re all human and I could understand," he said.
However a while later, one of Ramadhar’s close relatives who had owned a bar suddenly died, leaving the establishment to his grandson, who also happened to bear the name Ramadhar. "He wished to have the liquor licence transferred into his name.
"What we would have considered a very easy, simple, non-complicated issue, every time that matter came before that magistrate – and he (the grandson) carried my surname – there would be a request for something new.”
The magistrate requested Town and Country Division plans, some amendments, issues of fire precautions, and other things. “It went on for two years, the effect of which the business was killed. “I can’t say if it was malice. I cannot prove it. But I know what I feel.”
Ramadhar said it would have been hard to sue the magistrate, as he/she had been acting within their jurisdiction, or authority and power to make the requests. “But you know something had gone horribly wrong. But how can you prove malice?”
Ramadhar also gave another real-life example to show the other side of the coin, that is, to protect public officials from lawsuits in their personal capacity. He said as the then justice minister he had created a committee to upgrade prison conditions, but one day he was singularly the subject of a lawsuit over an alleged OSHA breach, for which he could have potentially been sent to jail.
“Officers of the State do need indemnity and protection. It’s not about Prakash Ramadhar, but an officer of the State doing his duty and becoming vulnerable and possibly liable.
“There is a real need to crystallise who are protected and in what form or fashion. I did nothing wrong, but I am before the courts.” He urged the Government to expand the State Liability and Proceedings Act for the State to accept liability for errors by individual state actors.