The Chancellor vs Chief Magistrate Holder-Allen
by Melanie Allicock

Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard, says it is impossible for Chief Magistrate Juliet Holder-Allen to feel slighted at not being promoted since she has flatly refused such offers from the Judicial Services Commission.
The Chancellor was at the time responding to an article published in yesterday’s Kaieteur News that implied that the Chief Magistrate is aggrieved at the recent appointments of relatively junior magistrates to the position of High Court Judge.
In an interview with Kaieteur News yesterday, Ms Bernard noted that to begin with, the statement is inaccurate since no junior magistrate was recently appointed to the position of High Court Judge.
“No magistrate in this country has been promoted [directly] recently to the High Court.”
Chancellor Bernard dismissed that the Chief Magistrate was never offered any promotional prospects in her more than 18-year career.
According to the Chancellor, in 2001, there was a vacancy for Land Court Judge and the three principal magistrates in the judicial system at the time were offered the job. Among them was Juliet Holder-Allen. She explained that this is a more senior position and a stepping-stone to becoming a High Court Judge.
The other two were Magistrates, Elizabeth Hinds and recently sworn-in land court judge, Rabindra Rooplall.
The Chancellor showed Kaieteur News a letter dated July 12, 2001 from Holder-Allen refusing to be considered for the position.
A part of this letter reads: “even though I would consider the appointment as a land court judge to be somewhat higher in status to the one that I presently occupy within the magistracy, I cannot in good conscience make a bid to occupy this position in preference to someone else who may be interested in this particular branch of the law, and who may be fully qualified and interested in being appointed to the position. In this circumstance, I implore you, honorable members of the commission that no consideration be given to me at this time until all the persons, who have expressed an interest in the position of land court judge, have been considered and eliminated.”
The Chancellor noted that, if there was a ploy against ensuring the upward mobility of Ms Holder-Allen in the judicial system, she would not have been offered the position which is a senior one.
Chancellor Bernard explained that the procedure in place, with regard to the appointment of magistrates to High Court Judges, is that they are first appointed as land court judges for some length of time.
This, she explained, allows them an opportunity to get a feel of the work involved in being a judge. It also allows the judicial administration an opportunity to assess the capabilities of the magistrate.
“The jump from magistrate to High Court Judge can be quite overwhelming, because while the magistrate court deals strictly with summary matters, the High Court is much more work, so it is wise to have a transitional placement and the land court judge provides that,” Ms Bernard said.
She made reference to the fact that a number of Judges went through this process, among them, Justices Lennox Perry, Ivor Churaman and Dawn Gregory-Barnes.
The Chancellor noted that for a magistrate to be appointed directly to the position of High Court Judge, his/her work would have to be outstanding.
She said this was done in the case of Justice Claudette La Bennet but stressed that each case is judged on its own merit.
“A magistrate is not just appointed to the position of judge because they have long service. We assess their competence, relationship in dealing with people, efficiency, timely delivery of justice and their overall suitability to hold the position,” the Chancellor said.
Ms Bernard expressed open dissatisfaction with the Chief Magistrate’s manner of dealing with grievances.
“Simple things that can be settled internally with proper communication, she runs to the media with…” the Chancellor said.
She recalled that a few years ago, the Chief Magistrate tendered her resignation with immediate effect because of a simple mix up over the dates for the commencement of a new salary structure.
“It was a simple matter that could have been sorted out with a simple communication. I invited her to see me and we sorted it out very simply.”
The very next day, after the resignation was tendered, Ms Holder- Allen rescinded her resignation. Kaieteur News was shown a letter to that effect.
Then just recently, the Chancellor recounted that the Chief Magistrate told the media that Dr Roger Luncheon was withholding her salary.
According to the Chancellor of Judiciary, that again was an impulsive action on the part of the Chief Magistrate, which could have easily been resolved with proper internal communication.
“This impulsiveness…on the part of the Chief Magistrate is becoming overbearing, and I think it is time I speak out, every time she acts impulsively I pacify her, but this is now becoming too much.”
The Chancellor opined that this type of attitude does not auger well for someone in the Chief Magistrate’s position.
Ms Bernard dismissed the claims that persons in the judicial system may have political or personal motives not to promote the Chief Magistrate.
“Every appointment that she has gotten has been because of me. As a matter of fact, I made sure that the first item of business for the Judicial Services Commission after its resuscitation last March, was the confirmation of Ms Holder-Allen in the position of Chief Magistrate.”
Ms Bernard denied the reports that plans are afoot to have a senior Magistrate assume the office of the Chief Magistrate.
“Utter nonsense; if we do that, what are we going to do with her, fire her?”
In response, the Chief Magistrate noted that the position of Land Court Judge is a pensionable one and opined that a fixed person should be placed to work there.
She said no Magistrate should be forced to serve as a land court judge before being promoted to the High Court Judge if they are not interested in that type of work.
She told Kaieteur News in an invited comment that it is an injustice to send every magistrate there since it is a specialised field and expressed wonder as to when this new criteria was introduced since several magistrates have skipped the appointment in the Land Court and were appointed High Court Judges.
“The most important criteria for placing magistrates at the land court should be interest in that regard and not a marching ground for everyone,” Holder-Allen said.
She noted that she has experience in the criminal field and would find the land issues boring. Ms Holder-Allen insisted that she would be forced to work in the land court.”
“I think that the reason why myself and the learned Chancellor cannot see eye to eye on certain issues is because I was trained as a lawyer and she was not; she only has training as a solicitor and maybe that difference in training hampers our ability to see eye to eye,” the Chief Magistrate said.

[Editor's Note. This story appeared in Kaieteur News in July 2004.]


July 18, 2004
© 2001