Rickie Burnett, who will today (Monday) be sworn in as a High Court judge, says he will write a book about his 39 years as a public servant in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Friday was Burnett’s last day as senior magistrate, a position he held since 2018, and he proceeded on pre-retirement leave, nine days short of 39 years as a public servant.
With his retirement, the magistracy lost its sole Public Service magistrate as all of the others are employed on contract with the government.
“I am doing some writing as well because 39 years is not 39 days. I am writing about a lot of experiences and I am likely to publish it. Good time and very bad time,” Burnett said at the beginning of his final sitting, at Kingstown Magistrate’s Court.
Burnett has been appointed a judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, with effect from Monday, April 3, assigned to SVG, the court announced on its website on March 8.
“Today is the last that I will be sitting as a magistrate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and also it marks the end of my direct employment with the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines — nine days short of 39 years,” Burnett said at Friday’s sitting.
“Ms Richardson, I don’t think you were born as yet,” he said to Crown Counsel Rose-Ann Richardson, who was at the Bar table.
Burnett thanked the Government and people of SVG “who provided me this opportunity to serve my country, which I have done faithfully all my working life”.
He said he remembers his first day as a public servant, before I became a judicial officer at the Registry Department.
It was April 9, 1984.
“I reached in town 7:30. Black pants, multi-coloured shirt, brown shoe,” the senior magistrate said.
“I really want to say what I want to say but I hate to be the subject of the news. I recognised the presence of the media,” said the magistrate who later asked the media to exit the courtroom to speak freely about an experience that he had.
Burnett said he remembers his first day as a public servant because it was an important day for him gaining employment.
“I really want to say what is on my mind but I am really cognisant of the presence of the media. I hate to be the subject of the news. That is the thing I did not like the most about this job.”
He, however, said that there were “good times and bad times”.
The senior magistrate noted that Counsel Stephen Huggins, who was also at the Bar table, was at one time his head of department at the Registry.
“… through it all, I will not complain. I really enjoyed my time both as a public servant and a judicial officer. Today it comes to an end.
“Tomorrow, I proceed on pre-retirement leave and I am free to do whatever I want, including seeking employment elsewhere,” he said.
He thanked the staff at the Registry Department and the magistracy, and everyone else for the assistance they gave, which helped to make his work enjoyable.
“I always did my best but I’m not perfect,” Burnett said, adding, “If I made errors in my decisions, that is why there is a Court of Appeal.”
“I have a lot I can say but I am going to save some for another time and another place as well.”
He said he knows that there is an expectation “that there ought to be some party or something”, adding that his staff and other people who have worked with him know who he is.
“There is going to be that party but it is not going to be at this office, but at the Judge’s Residence. That’s all I wish to say at this stage.”
In responding to the magistrate’s remarks, Huggins said:
“I have known you since the time you referred to — 1984. I was a registrar during your time as a clerk at the Registry. You know the old saying about the heights of great men reached and kept. It is not ‘sudden flight’ but it brings home to me the passage of time and where you are.”
Huggins said he had not expected to be addressing Burnett on his ascension to the High Court.
“But as time went by, I am more and more impressed by your transformation and what you have become. Each step made me realise that as long as a person works hard, takes their work seriously and is focused, they will achieve a great measure of success.”
The lawyer said he had been at the magistrate’s court on several occasions during Burnett’s tenure.
“And you have always been what I expect you to be: independent, impartial and fearless.
“You said there is always a Court of Appeal but so far we have always had erudite judgement from you and I expect the same on the bench.”
And, defence counsel Israel Bruce noted to the court that he and Huggins are from different eras, having been called to the Bar a decade ago.
Bruce said he would always remember his first appearance before Burnett — at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court — defending a young man who was accused of peeping through a woman’s window during the wee hours of the morning.
“I came from law school thinking I had it covered and said that with Turnbull I am bound to succeed. You ruled the man was guilty,” Bruce said, adding that he learnt then, as a counsel, “you will win some and lose some”.
He further said:
“I am very grateful for the time that you have loan to SVG in the area of legal practice. I have learnt a lot and I am sure that a number of our junior colleagues have learnt a lot.”
Bruce said he was delighted to see the announcement from the Chief Justice that Burnett has been appointed a High Court judge.
“It is an indication to us who are behind that with paramount education we can achieve that which we think is achievable.”
Duane Daniel, another defence counsel, adopted his colleagues’ words. He said he first met Burnett when the future judge was employed as a High Court officer, including as judge’s clerk.
“The information came to me that you were an aspiring law student,” Daniel said, adding that he also remembers congratulating Burnett on attaining his law degree.
Daniel said he believes that Burnett is yet to attain the pinnacle of his success.
Meanwhile, Richardson congratulated Burnett on his elevation to the High Court bench.
She said that over the last year, she had appeared before the magistrate more than her colleagues at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.
“I have seen first-hand how diligently you work, how dedicated you are to your work and how you have been a magistrate who wears many hats — a counsellor, social worker — and these assisted you in gaining your soon-to-be new position,” Richardson said.
“I trust and hope that as you continue on the bench that you will continue to excel and that you continue to be as diligent, honest as you have always been and you will continue to wave the flag high for St. Vincent and the Grenadines as we now gain another … home grown judge in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court,” the crown counsel said.
With Burnett’s appointment, SVG now has four judges in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the others being Brian Cottle, Sonya Young and Colin Williams.
And, St. Clair Charles, a court reporter, said he first met Burnett when he worked at the Registry.
“I am not standing on any particular legal ground, … but I want, on behalf of the media practitioners who cover the court, to say that we appreciate all the work that you have been doing over the years and we will continue to follow you, wherever you go.”
Kudos to you brother. I don’t know if you would read this comment, but there was one judgement that you admonished on that chap that stole that garlic. You sentence him to jail, which I my opinion was very heavy handed. For one GARLIC! Come on…
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