A psychiatrist hired by the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has quit the job after two months, leaving a number of people with matters before the court to hang longer in the balance.
One source familiar with the situation told iWitness News that the psychiatrist, who is originally from India, said: “I am a psychiatrist. I know crazy when I see it. This amount of work is crazy. I am not doing it.”
The continued absence of psychiatric services in the country was raised again on Tuesday and Wednesday at the High Court during the first two days of the assizes.
On Wednesday, when the matter of accused murderer Webster Woodley was called, Crown Counsel Renee Simmons told the court there was an outstanding psychiatric evaluation for Woodley.
Woodley has been on remand since 2005 in connection with the Nov. 29, 2004 death of taxi operator Peter “Kazaman” Joseph.
Woodley was convicted twice for murder in connection with Joseph’s death but both convictions were overturned by the Court of Appeal.
On Wednesday, Simmons told the court that there were “some difficulties” in getting the psychiatric evaluation done.
“We are exploring all options…” Simmons told the court.
Defence counsel Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell, who was holding for Woodley’s lawyer, Jomo Thomas, told the court that she could confirm that on June 30 the court ordered a psychiatric report, which was not done.
She said that the second element of the order was that if the report was not submitted, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health had to attend court to say why.
However, Justice Brian Cottle, who was presiding, said that after the end of the last assizes, he met with the permanent secretary about Woodley’s matter and others in which a psychiatric evaluation was needed.
Cottle said that during that meeting, he heard from the psychiatrist who the state had retained and the meeting ended with an agreement to meet shortly after.
He said the psychiatrist was to provide some details but she subsequently demitted office.
“I got the impression that the volume and type of work she was being asked to do fell outside of what she was expecting and I am not sure she felt that she was able to cope. So, she took the position that she would no longer hold the position to be the person tasked with providing psychiatric evaluations for persons charged with criminal offences,” Justice Cottle said.
He said that medical officers in that area of expertise are difficult to come by and it is difficult to attract and retain qualified people in this area “for the simple reason that if they choose to work elsewhere, they would be much better rewarded than accepting a position to work with the state in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
Cottle said he would not, therefore, summon the permanent secretary to attend court to tell him what he already knows.
“We don’t have reports because we don’t have anyone to prepare the reports,” the judge said.
“Other steps will have to be taken by the powers that be to prepare the reports. As it stands, we literally do not have anybody to prepare the reports,” Justice Cottle further said.
He told the prosecutor that while he was alive to the challenges that the government faces, the government is still in a better position to have the psychiatric reports prepared.
“I will not make an issue of it today but I must place on the record that I cannot allow people to languish because we cannot prepare reports,” Justice Cottle said.
He said there will come a time that applications may be made on behalf of people with outstanding reports and those applications will have to be granted.
Meanwhile, the matter of psychiatric reports also came up on Tuesday, during the arraignment of Reynold Roberts, 40, who is charged with murdering his common law wife, Family Court counsellor Luann Roberts, 42, and raping and kidnapping another woman at Harmony Hall on May 1, 2022.
Roberts pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Simmons, who represented the Crown, said that the prosecution was not ready but believed that the matter would benefit from case management and asked that it be kept in the current assizes.
Meanwhile, Duane Daniel, who represented Roberts, said he was recently retained in the matter and had the deposition but was still awaiting disclosure of police statements.
The lawyer said he intends to make certain representations with the prosecution for the better management of the case, adding that there are some issues that might need to be explored.
He said he anticipates that this would take some time and that the matter would be ready before the end of December.
Daniel said that while Roberts is in custody, he would like all options to be available to him in terms of entering his plea if a particular course of action is to be adopted.
He said that in order for Roberts to be properly advised, those negotiations would have to be had with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.
private arrangements for psychiatric evaluation?
The judge asked Daniel if he would be making private arrangements for a psychiatric evaluation of his client.
The lawyer said he would have to investigate this, adding that he had spoken to someone at the DPP’s office and learnt the day before that “they are short staffed in that regard”.
“Yes, they had made arrangements but the officer engaged, when confronted by the nature and volume of work, opted not to continue,” Justice Cottle said, referring to the psychiatrist who spent two months on the job.
Daniel said he was only recently instructed and he inquired on Monday and heard that someone has been on board but only for about two months.
“That was all the more the reason why I am saying that I doubt that all those arrangements would come to fruition during these assizes. Because I would need, of course, that report first to make certain decisions and then to advise, accordingly,” Daniel said.
The judge said he could not make an order for a psychiatric evaluation because there is no one to whom that order could be addressed.
Daniel said that is the information that he was given to him on Monday when he inquired, adding that he was trying to expedite the matter by making inquiries in advance of appearing before the court.
Justice Cottle told Daniel that it was open to him to make private arrangements, adding that he understood that sometimes “at some expense, professionals might visit”.
Daniel said he had raised the issue many times, even in the bench bar meetings “that justice ought not to be prohibitive on the basis of those specific cost”.
He said it would be nice to think that there is “an interest on both sides” to have a psychiatric evaluation of an accused as this could also help to determine what charges to lay.
“And in the absence of that evaluation and that information it might lead to a case of manifest injustice for want of that information,” the lawyer said, adding that this is to the prejudice of the defendant.
“And, in these economic times, the average person, those sorts of services are not in their financial reach, privately.”
Daniel asked where this leaves the administration of justice, given that it is the state that has access to the resources and the state that brings the prosecution.
“That is the mire in which we find ourselves when we represent clients,” the lawyer said, adding that to effectively do so one must have all of the information “or justice is possibly dispensed in a vacuum”.
Justice Cottle adjourned matters to the next session, which begins in January.