One More Magistrate
As the shortage of magistrates continues to frustrate the legal process here, a son of the soil is returning home to help.
Former police officer Bernard B. Pacquette of Mahaut will soon take up the post of Magistrate for District G, i.e. the north, one of the areas in Dominica more seriously affected by the problem.
"I am not looking for money, my whole life has been a constant preparation to come back to Dominica and serve," Pacquette told the Sun in an interview from New York where he is based. "This one presented itself and I could not let that go".
He said he served in the Dominica Police Force for eight years; followed by 25 years overseas including five years in the United States Virgin Islands National Guard and three years in the regular Army 101st Airborne Division. His appointment becomes effective on May 1st 2013.
"I am now closing my law and accounting practice to head back Dominica. I am pretty excited about my return," he said. Pacquette dismissed suggestions that he is not well acquainted with the legal system in Dominica and may not be best suited for the post.
"I studied in England where I got my LLB from the University of London. I have also done the New York Bar and all I need to do is to get on par with the local statutes and it's all based on Common Law," Pacquette said.
Pacquette will join a system that has frustrated lawyers and their clients for decades. Lawyers like Michael Bruney have taken up some magistrate duties temporarily but the problem persists. Chief Magistrate Evalina Baptiste and the other magistrates have from time to time expressed their frustration, in open court, at the volume of adjourned cases that is clogging the system because of the lack of magistrates. More than 300 cases are waiting to be dispensed with in the north alone, the Sun has been told.
Former Attorney General David Bruney says the situation is frustrating and blames poor working conditions and inadequate pay scale of magistrates as the major cause of the shortage.
"If you improve on the conditions for the magistrates, you will improve on the services which are provided to the public. The magistrates in Dominica and by extension those in the north, should be getting a minimum of $12-14,000 a month," Bruney said.
He added, and then more "career magistrates would be obtained" and persons would stay in the job until retirement.
"The way it is operating now is that local lawyers are not prepared to go through the rigors of that job in the north for the amount that is being offered (I think is between 4-5 thousand dollars a mouth); it's a grueling job, the magistracy right now is perhaps the most difficult job in the legal system," he said. According to Bruney, cases are piling up as persons from the north wait for court dates and the system is breaking down.
"You are one person having to deal with criminal and civil matters. The Ministry of Legal Affairs should be looking to have a full time Civil Court with a full time Civil Magistrate. The conditions in the north for the magistrate should also be improved. With the way it is, there will be no continuity. The salary is much too small, make the salary attractive. People went to study and want proper pay," the former Attorney General said. "Magistrates work as hard as judges; they need to be paid properly. Ministers of government are being paid more than a magistrate and that is unfair and can't continue. The system is breaking down in the north, I can tell you and that law and order will be amok."