The Antigua and Barbuda Bar Association has chastised Member of Parliament, Asot Michael, for recent actions initiated by him against Chief Magistrate, Joanne Walsh. Magistrate Walsh recently issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the Saint Peter MP after he failed to appear before the court to answer on a matter in which he had been named.
Michael subsequently instructed his attorney to ask Chief Magistrate Walsh to recuse herself from the case, because, he asserted, she had no authority to issue a bench warrant and, as a result, was no longer appropriate to continue to exercise judicial function in the matter going forward. He further asserted that her actions undermined the necessary objective perception of the administration of justice as independent and untainted by bias, whether conscious or unconscious. There are also reports he communicated with Chief Magistrate Walsh directly concerning the matter via Whatsapp. In a statement on Thursday, the Council of the Antigua and Barbuda Bar Association said it takes seriously MP Michael’s accusations of “corruption and skullduggery” and would call upon him to present evidence to the proper authorities to support his claims.
“It is not acceptable for any person, and especially a Member of Parliament, to make such a pointed and defamatory accusation against a Magistrate, without evidence,” the statement read. In a stern rebuke of the parliamentarian, the Bar Association made reference to Michael’s apology to the court for his actions, which it described as inadequate.
“Having made such a public accusation of corruption against the head of the Magistracy, a private apology is insufficient, and a public apology specifically retracting those accusations is necessary,” said the Bar Association’s statement. “A litigant may ask a Judge or magistrate to recuse himself or herself. A judge should not sit to hear a case in which a fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility that the Judge was biased. In the first instance, it is up to the Judge to recuse himself/herself. If, however, he or she does not and the litigant feels aggrieved the litigant may appeal the Judge’s decision to the Court of Appeal,” the statement noted. The Bar outlined if the issue of bias is raised by a litigant, the truthfulness of the accusation is not what is considered by the court, but rather the mere appearance of bias.
It contended that the Chief Magistrate, as a member of the Judiciary, is deserving of the utmost respect which must be shown to her at all times. It continued that it is only a legacy of history that has created the present construct within which the Chief Magistrate is an employee of the government rather than of the Chief Justice or a Judicial and Legal Services Commission, a situation which the Bar Association hopes will be rectified in the
shortest possible time. Judges and Magistrates, the Bar asserted, are independent and it is critical to democracy that they remain as such.