Matter involving investigation into Chief Magistrate adjourned to April while case under Electronic Crimes Act comes up today

Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh’s application for judicial review, filed in the High Court in 2022, will be heard in April.  The matter relates to an investigation into the St. John’s Magistrates’ Court – and into Walsh, herself – which was halted when a judge granted her an interim injunction.

Reportedly, the matter came up last Wednesday, February 15, in the Court; however, following a request by Dr. David Dorsett, who said he had to be out of the jurisdiction, it was adjourned.

Dorsett is representing the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Hildred Simpson, who commissioned the investigation, and Attorney-General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, both respondents in the matter.

The investigation began last October 4 and should have wrapped up on November 3, 2022.  However, it was challenged by Walsh on the grounds that the permanent secretary had no authority to initiate the probe.  

The Court agreed, bringing the investigation to an abrupt end, and a full injunction was granted on October 26, following an interim injunction on October 24 by Justice Jan Drysdale.

By that time, the investigating team had been meeting and interviewing the Magistrates Court staff for about three weeks.

By way of a letter dated September 27, Simpson had notified the chief magistrate of the investigation, which covered four main areas, including the alleged verbal, physical, psychological and emotional abuse of the receptionist, and of the staff, in general, at the court.

The three-member investigating team – comprising Dr. Adele Blair, Joseph Henry and Rita Phillip Harris – was also looking into the matter of funds that went missing at the court on May 4; the use of funds generated from the $200 fine that is imposed when court proceedings are interrupted by cell phones; and the unauthorized disposal/destruction of government receipt and voucher books that were located at the Magistrates Court building on High Street.

Attorney-at-law Ken Kentish is representing Walsh in the matter, in which she is seeking damages.

A source has said that any investigation into a magistrate would have to be ordered by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission.

Meanwhile, another case in which Walsh is involved is expected to come up today, February 20, at the St. John’s Magistrates’ Court.

In this matter, the Police have charged a man with an offence under the Electronic Crimes Act.  He is alleged to have made certain statements about Walsh on his Facebook page when she was tipped to take over the post of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in March 2022.

The posts reported suggested that the chief magistrate is corrupt and that there would be conflicts arising from her appointment as the DPP.

Subsequently, Walsh made a report to the Police and the man was arrested and charged.

An attorney from the Office of the DPP is expected to try the matter before another magistrate.

The penalty for an offence under this Act is $250,000 or three years in prison, or both, if tried in the Magistrates Court. However, the penalty increases to $500,000 or six years in prison, or both, if tried in the High Court.

The Act prohibits the spreading of false information about others and making statements that can tarnish their reputation.  It also prohibits persons from taking and circulating any graphic or insensitive photographs of victims of crime or traffic collisions in which serious injuries or death have occurred.