Challenged by shortage of police manpower, Chief Magistrate Walsh closes St. John’s Magistrate Court entirely for today

Proceedings at the St. John’s Magistrates Court were cancelled for Tuesday, February 21, as all courts, including the Civil Court, closed their doors due to a shortage of police officers to man the premises.

A source says that Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh was forced to take this action, since there were only three police officers present – one for each court – and the sargeant in charge of these officers was not present.

According to the source, the sargeant reportedly had been summoned to a meeting at 8 a.m., this morning, at Police Headquarters.

It is alleged that a female officer was instructed by the sargeant to turn out for duty at the court, taking the complement of officers to four.

Reports say that this officer has just returned from sick leave, having gone through surgery, and was scheduled for a medical check-up this morning.  Accordingly, she reportedly had to cancel her appointment in order to take up duty at the court.

Meanwhile, the source says, it was a chaotic situation at the court as detainees had to be sent back to the St. John’s Police Station until the court reopens.

Those who are able to secure station bail may be granted bail, but those who must be afforded bail by a magistrate will have to spend another night in the lock-up.

Cases that were listed on the court’s docket had to be adjourned, as well, with the accused, victims and witnesses given new dates to return to have their matters heard.

The source says the chief magistrate has expressed frustration at the utter disrespect constantly meted out by the Police Force and its hierarchy.

That person is also asking how a handful of officers could be expected to man three courtrooms which all sit at the same time: at 9 a.m.

That means there will be one officer for each court; and not only are persons being brought up from the station with new matters, but persons on remand at His Majesty’s Prison will have to be brought to the court for committals or for their trials.

“With this [number] of officers – basically no manpower – what security would be in place for the magistrates or members of the public, especially with those persons coming from the prison?” the source asks.

Reports say that Chief Magistrate Walsh was not advised ahead of time that the full complement of officers would not be at the court today.  The source says that no one on the Force saw it fit to call and notify the court that the senior officer would not be available for duty, either.  

About two weeks ago, when the United Progressive Party (UPP) spearheaded a protest action at the Prime Minister’s Office, calling for a public inquiry into the Antigua Airways debacle, police officers were pulled from the court for duty at the picket line, leaving the court undermanned.

According to sources, Walsh, at that time, had threatened to close down the court; however, when word got to the hierarchy of the Force, the officers attached to the court were told to return to their normal duties.

Today, the Chief Magistrate is alleged to have declared that “enough is enough.”