A magistrate says that when a person sent for evaluation walks out of the psychiatric hospital, it is like a prisoner walking out of jail.
Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett made the observation on Wednesday at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court.
He was at the time presiding over matters in which Jamel Douglas is charged with wounding, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and theft.
Douglas was sent for a psychiatric evaluation when he was arraigned last September.
And while the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court did not sit from mid-September to late December 2019, the psychiatric hospital could give the court no update about his location.
Shortly after calling the matter in which Douglas is the defendant, Burnett commented that the defendant should be coming from “elsewhere” — a reference to prison or the Mental Health Centre.
The prosecutor, Police Constable Corlene Samuel told the court that according to the record, Douglas should have been at the Mental Health Centre.
She said that the police made checks but Douglas was not there nor was he at Prisons.
The prosecutor said that the court has had an issue before with persons sent for psychiatric evaluation being released from the Mental Health Centre without the court being informed.
Samuel said that the prosecution has had discussions with the Mental Health Centre about the issue.
“But here we are today, another person who was sent there with an order from the court is not out,” she said.
The prosecutor noted that police would have to go and look for the defendant.
She further said that all of the witnesses in the matter were in court.
Commenting on the development, Burnett said that he had the capacity to be and to play deaf on those matters.
“I have the capacity to just don’t care. Just listen to you and give a new date,” he said.
The senior magistrate, however, said he is not wired that way and would talk about things when they are not going right.
“The day I can’t talk about it, is the day when I am not sitting here. But once I am sitting here, I am going to talk.”
Burnett said that Douglas, having been sent to the Mental Health Centre on a court order, should be there until he is brought back to court.
He said that if the court makes an order for a person to be hospitalised or institutionalised and that person can free him or herself, “it’s like sending somebody to prison and they walk back out.
“What’s the difference?” the senior magistrate said, adding that institutions of state must be able to secure persons who are in their care.
He, too, noted that the police will now have to go looking for the defendant.
Burnett noted that the last time that Douglas was before the court was in September.
He said that if the psychiatric report was ready and it was possible for Douglas to be a free man, there are other courts before which he could have appeared.
The senior magistrate noted that the Serious Offences Court is located in the same building as the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court and that there is also the Family Court – three magisterial courts in the city.
He also said that Douglas could have been taken before the Calliaqua Magistrate’s Court.
Burnett noted that the registrar of the High Court is also an additional magistrate.
“When I speak like this, some persons get upset. I know that, but it doesn’t bother me at all.”
Burnett said he has a job to do and will do it to the best of his ability.
“We really have to do better than this,” he said. “We are paid to do a job. Let’s do it to the best of our ability.”
The senior magistrate said soon there will be a time when he will not speak on these matters.
“I’m fed up,” he said adding that every court session he keeps saying the same things.
“What changes have we had?” Burnett said, adding that he was speaking for his court only.
Asked how the prosecution intend to proceed, Samuel made an application for a warrant for the arrest of the defendant and that the matter be adjourned to April.
Shortly after disposing of the matter, three Crown counsels — Karim Nelson, Rose-Ann Richardson and Assistant Superintendent of Police John Ballah entered and sat in the gallery.
Burnett told them that he was sorry that they were about five minutes late, adding that he had to critique the system “as I do almost every day and will do once I am here … until I am fed up”.
He explained to the Crown counsel what had happened.
“I am always sensitive about these issues. Sometimes we sit here and we do what we deem to be our work but there are individuals who sacrifice their time to come here, who sometimes really don’t want to be here. So we have to do better,” he said.