Magistrate Donna Harris was correct when she changed the charges of a criminal case before her over the objections of a prosecutor, a disagreement that led to the prosecutor being ejected and a stand-off with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), said noted Queen’s Counsel Dr. Henry Browne.
“I have now seen the six charges which were before the learned Magistrate Harris. She is right they were/ are all all wrong,” Browne told The Observer.
“She could have heard the cases then dismissed all of them. She gave the prosecution an opportunity to put it’s tackle in order. The prosecution did not avail itself of the opportunity to so. And that was unfortunate.”
Harris’ court was set to re-open today following negotiations and a high-level meeting between Harris, DPP Valston Graham, acting Chief Magistrate Renold Benjamin and other senior legal officials.
The Observer understands the meeting came after Benjamin had received a letter from Harris requesting his intervention.
On Monday, Graham pulled all of the DPP’s prosecutors from appearing in Harris’ court after a disagreement during a criminal proceeding between the magistrate and Crown Council Teshaun Vasquez resulted in Harris ejecting Vasquez from the court.
According to a person close to the negotiations to re-open the court, Graham was not on the island when the incident happened and were of the view that the DPP should have waited until he returned to the federation and had an audience with Harris before acting.
On Tuesday, The St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association issued a statement offering it’s “wholehearted” support for Graham and criticising Harris, calling the disagreement leading to the ejection of Vasquez “by no means an isolated one.”
“Members of the legal profession have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the manner, unbecoming of a magistrate, in which Magistrate Harris addresses and conducts herself towards lawyers appearing before her,” said St. Kitts & Nevis Bar Association President Dahlia Joseph-Rowe.
However, some senior members of the bar were at odds with the DPP’s response and with the press statement issued by the bar association
Senior member of the bar association, Terrence Byron, wrote a letter criticising the bar association for it’s statement, which he said did not describe the incident between Vasquez and Harris fully and called “laced with bias” against the magistrate.
“You have stated the noble goals of the St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association. But you are plainly taking sides in this matter, without even calling “the incident” what it is, an alleged contempt committed in the face of the court,” said Byron.
Byron concluded his letter saying “comes across as a rush to judgement.”
“It would be my frank suggestion that it be revised and reissued to give a more sober and fair-minded statement of the position of the St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association.”