Resident magistrates to become parish judges
Parish judges will soon be able to throw out their notebooks and, instead, use modern technology such as recorders to take evidence.
Currently, notes are taken long hand by the presiding judges, but the passage of a bill to amend the Judicature (Resident Magistrate's) Act has paved the way for sweeping changes to the way in which the parish courts operate.
Among other things, the bill, which has already been passed in the Senate, provides for persons who preside in the resident magistrate's courts to be referred to as parish judges. The courts are to be renamed parish courts.
"It is a fallacious anachronism to deny a magistrate the status and title as judges," Attorney General Patrick Atkinson said in piloting the bills through the House.
He noted that resident magistrates were merely seen as having the powers of two justices of the peace.
The parish judges will also enjoy the same immunity from liability as judges of the Supreme Court.
Parish judges will be appointed by the Judicial Commission, but unlike the existing system which sees an attorney-at-law being qualified to become a resident magistrate after five years of practice, a person cannot become a parish judge unless they have been a lawyer for at least seven years.
"This is a good piece of legislation that strengthens the work of the resident magistrate," said Delroy Chuck, the opposition spokesman on justice.
The bill allows for the appointment of a chief judge of the parish courts and for the judge to get powers to deal with contempt. The fine for contempt has been set as high as $500,000.
Chuck said the changes were long overdue.
"We support the bill; we are giving status to the judges. We are giving them administrative support and at the end of the day we must call on them for greater delivery of justice," he said.
Before it becomes law, the legislation will require the governor general's assent.
In the meantime, the House also passed an Act to Amend the Judicature (Supreme Court) Act which, among other things, allows for the establishment of a Court Administration Division, which will replace the Court Management Services.