THE EDITOR: The San Fernando magistrates’ court was the first court I appeared in over 20 years ago as a newly qualified attorney, holding for my late father Reynold S. Beharrylal.
I walked past it for years when returning from St Benedict's College to my father's office where I would wait before we went home. It was an impressively and busy building with attorneys, complainants, defendants and prisoners – the latter being brought from across the road in handcuffs.
Of greater significance, was its proximity to the Supreme Court building where attorneys could sometimes be seen dashing between courts in their gowns and bands. To anyone it was clear this was the legal hub of San Fernando and indeed many attorneys’ offices are located within walking distance.
Its vintage appearance and existence since 1931 also made it a place of historical significance.
It was therefore a moment of tremendous sadness when I saw the court had been abandoned and left derelict. For a court located where it was and serving the public in the manner it did, it is extraordinary that the people responsible for its maintenance and usability allowed it to fall into a such state of disrepair in the first place.
Even when I first attended, 20 yeards ago, there was much maintenance that needed to be done, ceiling repairs, roof repairs, refurbishment of walls and seating, but alas, requests for these matters to be dealt with fell on deaf ears.
Now, the press has reported that a contract was awarded for demolition of this court, or rather, what's left of it. Yet there is no announcement that this court site is to be fully revamped as a court serving both civil and criminal cases in San Fernando, particularly those that require a jury trial to clear the massive backlog of criminal cases plaguing our justice system.
How is it that in Port of Spain where a waterfront court complex has now been established, there is not a similar enthusiasm for the reuse of this existing site for court business in serving the public in San Fernando?
The position beggars belief where it is so obvious the site should be immediately repurposed as a major and modern court complex.
Bearing in mind that the court fell into disuse in 2017, and even making allowance for the pandemic, the fact of the matter is that it has been left too long without action.
If those with responsibility appreciate the importance of justice being dispensed in San Fernando, not just Port of Spain, then I would fully expect swift announcements that the site will form the home of a new court with all of the mod-cons available to us now, and in the years to come.
It would be a tragedy if a modern court complex for San Fernando on this site was not already being planned; and even more tragic if it were not used as a court at all, which would be a greater injustice.
ANAND BEHARRYLAL, KC