A lie told on a magistrate in court last week by a man accused of fraud has highlighted the need for stenotypists (court reporters) in the island's Magistrate's Courts.
Currently, court reporters, who make verbatim records of court proceedings, are used only in the Supreme Court. In the past, there have been talks of assigning stenotypists to magistrate's courts. However, there has been no concrete move on the matter.
Last Thursday's episode in the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate's Court, which was described by some attorneys as "shocking" and "a first", saw 50-year-old fraud suspect Lascelles Robinson accusing Magistrate Lorna Shelly-Williams of instructing him in January to plead guilty to a charge of fraudulent conversion.
According to Robinson, Shelly-Williams had appointed him an attorney during his trial and instructed him to plead guilty to the charge. Robinson, who was representing himself at the time, said he pleaded guilty because he did not understand what he was doing.
If what Robinson said was true, this would make a strong ground for appeal.
But Shelly-Williams on Thursday disputed Robinson's account, which, she said, was contrary to what is in her notes. The magistrate said it was Robinson who stopped the proceedings and indicated to the court that he wished to plead guilty, which resulted in her appointing a lawyer to guide him through the process.
The magistrate's account of what occurred in January was corroborated by written submissions of attorney Melrose Reid, who is watching the proceedings on behalf of the victims.
Following a lengthy verbal exchange between Robinson and Shelly-Williams about what had occurred, the magistrate said that the incident highlights the need for independent note-taking.
Reid told the court that she was "amazed" that Robinson could "lie" on the magistrate in this manner.
Following Thursday's proceedings, Reid said the Ministry of Justice should act swiftly on the matter.
"We are calling on the relevant authorities to get court reporters into the magistrate's courts so that the justice system does not come into disrepute," she told the Jamaica Observer.
Robinson's lawyer, Keith Jarrett, withdrew from the case on Thursday.
Robinson was arrested last year and charged as a result of allegations that he took more than $10 million from the complainants, who are working overseas, to construct a house in an upscale community in St Mary without doing the work for which he was contracted. But Robinson said he only owed the complainants $6 million.
Yesterday, Robinson was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment.
He will, however, serve 13 months behind bars as the magistrate counted the five months that he already spent in custody. He gave verbal notice in court that he would be appealing.