Senior Magistrate Colin John is expected to rule today (Monday) on a lawyer’s application that he recuse himself from the trial of two men who were charged when he was commissioner of police (CoP).
Defence counsel Grant Connell made the application last Monday, and further suggested that John recuses himself from all matters that were brought during his tenure as police chief.
John retired as CoP in August and was appointed senior magistrate on Dec. 1.
Connell told John that the court records show that he was CoP when the charge was brought against his clients.
“There may be a little concern,” Connell said, adding, “We are but spiritual beings having a human experience”.
He told the magistrate that what is in his subconscious as well as that of the officer “cannot easily be ignored sometimes because we are humans and perceptions”.
The lawyer further stated:
“And I cannot rule out the possibility, I am not saying it would be, but, a case of that nature, what if the CoP is called [as a witness]?”
Connell said that “in the broader picture, given all the things, the climate in St. Vincent right now” and to “defuse what can be termed a storm in a tea cup”, John should recuse himself from all the matters brought while he was CoP.
Connell suggested that a temporary magistrate be appointed to deal with the cases that were brought when John was police chief and are yet to be disposed of.
He told the court he estimates that there are about 100 such cases. “Any magistrate worth half their salt can deal with 100 cases in three, four months,” Connell said.
In response, the senior magistrate said there were two matters: the lawyer’s submission and his suggestion.
“As regards the submission, I would ask that you put it in writing so that I can read the submission,” the senior magistrate said.
“I would rather you put it in writing and then I can look at it from there.”
Connell, however, told the magistrate that a written submission would not go beyond his oral application.
“In light of the climate and whatever else you stated, I think it is better you put it in writing,” John told Connell, who responded that he had made his application “with greatest caution” and that it was “a trivial matter”
John responded: “Out of an abundance of caution, put it in writing. The suggestion, I note your suggestion. That is the most I will say right now.”
On Dec. 4, John’s first day on the bench, his former role came up as the trial of Kevin John on a threatening language charge was about to begin.
The prosecutor, acting Corporal of Police Corlene Samuel told the court that the complaint had on the senior magistrate’s name from when he was police chief.
“I don’t know if it is an issue,” Samuel told the court.
The senior magistrate told Samuel that his name being on the information was “just procedural” on account of his then office.
He said he was sure that he could proceed in an unbiased way.
“Very well. We can proceed,” Samuel said. She later told the magistrate that she agreed that his name being on the information as the complainant was “superficial”.
The prosecutor made an application that the name “Colin John” be omitted from the information.
After the trial, the charge against the accused was dismissed with John ruling that the virtual complainant had not satisfied the court that he had felt threatened as a result of the words that the defendant allegedly used.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 6, the St. Lucia-based Judicial & Legal Service Commission (JLSC) said it would “investigate further” concerns raised by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Bar Association about John’s appointment as senior magistrate.
Among the concerns that the Bar Association raised was that John is the immediate past commissioner of police who served in that position from Dec. 31, 2018 to Aug. 31, 2023.
“We estimate that over 95% of criminal matters brought in the Magistrate’s court involve the Commissioner of Police as complainant. Given the delays in the system, most of the matters brought over the last four years will still be pending,” Bar Association President, Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell wrote.
She said the public, like many members of the Bar, carry the perception that the magistrate’s court is a police court.