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Jurisdiction of the Magistrate

The Supreme Court of Judicature was established by the Constitution of the Republic to ensure that the Judiciary operates independently from the Executive and to ensure an appropriate mechanism for resolving legal disagreements involving such bodies as the state and individuals. Section 99 of the constitution was established. The Supreme Court consists of the Court of Appeal as well as the High Court of Justice. According to Sec 99 of the constitution, “There shall be a Supreme Court of Judicature for Trinidad and Tobago consisting of a High Court of Justice and a Court of Appeal with such jurisdiction and powers as are conferred on these Courts respectively by this Constitution or any other law” (Trinidad and Tobago Government News, n.d.). The Judiciary consists of the Magistracy and the Supreme Court of Judicature. The Chief Justice is the head of the Judiciary.

Under the Chief Magistrate is the Magistracy, which consists of the Petty Civil Courts and the Courts of Summary Criminal Jurisdiction. The two courts are constituted under the Petty Civil Courts Act Chapter 4:21 as well as the Summary Courts Act Chapter 4:20 respectively of the Trinidad and Tobago laws. The general accountability of advancing the vision as well as mission of the Judiciary lies with the Chief Justice, who is accountable for wide-ranging justice administration in the country. The Chief Magistrate reports to the Chief Justice. There exists similar jurisdiction for High Court judges who sit in Chambers and the High Court Masters, save for issues where statutes particularly limit the authority of Masters of High Court in such matters as exercising powers to grant interlocutory injunctions or to imprison. Currently, there are three High Court Masters. Legislation amended the Supreme Court of Judicature this year to allow the number of judges to be increased- additional thirteen judges at the High Court level (thirty-six in total) and an increase of three judges at the Court of Appeal level leading to twelve judges up from nine.



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The Magistracy

The magistracy is charged with exercising original jurisdiction on the subject of summary criminal matters. The magistrate courts enable the progress of preliminary inquiries into serious criminal issues to ascertain whether there has been establishment of a prima facie case against an accused individual before he or she is indicted for trial at the Supreme Court - High Court Division. The other division of Magistracy, Petty Civil Court Division, deals with civil issues on small claims of up to and including $ 15,000. There are thirteen magisterial districts in different locations in Trinidad & Tobago. A Deputy Chief Magistrate supports the Chief Magistrate in all the districts. There are 13 senior magistrates as well as 42 magistrates - 36 permanent and 6 temporary. One magistrate court operates in a few districts. There is also a Clerk of the Peace attached to every court. 7 Area Court Managers also help in Courts administration.

Section 3A of the Summary Courts Act states that “No person shall be appointed a Magistrate unless he has been admitted to practice as an Attorney-at-law in Trinidad and Tobago”. Moreover, he or she has to have “practiced as such for a period of not less than five years save that for the purpose of satisfying the latter requirement practice as an Attorney-at-law or as a barrister or solicitor and service as a judicial or legal officer in a Commonwealth country, shall be deemed to be practice as an Attorney-at-law” (Trinidad and Tobago Gazette, n.d.).

All jurisdictions in a magistrates` court have to be conferred by Statute and a magistrate derives his powers purely from the enabling Act as confirmed in Johnson (1875). Magistrates also do not have jurisdiction to award compensation on their own initiative. In Agard v Assistant Superintendent of Police (1964), the Court of Appeal of the Windward and Leeward Islands considered an appeal against a magistrate’s award of compensation in an assault case from Montserrat. The Court of Appeal held that the magistrate had no jurisdiction to award compensation on his own initiative because the empowering s 102A of the Magistrate’s Code of Procedure Act only provided for award of compensation ‘upon the application of the person aggrieved”. No award could stand in this case, as the victim has not made such an application.

The High Court is an advanced court of record as allowed by the parliament and boasts every power of such a court, taking account of every such power as provided by Trinidad and Tobago’s Supreme Court. It is clearly indicated in Section 100(2) of the country`s constitution. The Court of Appeal is also an advanced court of record; it has all the powers of such a court as indicated in the Section 101(2) of the Constitution.

The Jurisdiction of Magistrates

In Trinidad & Tobago, every Justice and Magistrate is usually allowed to put into effect all such rights, benefits, powers, as well as jurisdictions by the Summary Courts Act and all other written laws. Every magistrate usually has and exercises full jurisdiction and power with regard to every summary offence as well as every issue pertaining thereto and with regard of which Summary Courts can make orders while exercising law in their jurisdiction.

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Physical Jurisdiction

The Chief Justice has the authority to allot one or more magistrates to one district or one magistrate to more than one district. When more than one magistrate presides over a single district, the magistrate is usually given the authority to exercise simultaneous authority in the district with the others or others so allocated. All magistrates usually have jurisdiction all through the republic irrespective of the wherever he or she is assigned. In D’Oliviera Comptroller of Customs & Excise v Chase (1964), it was established that a magistrate only has jurisdiction over cases, which occur in the district in which he/she is sitting, unless statute provides otherwise. Nevertheless, the Summary Act Provisions provide that a magistrate usually has jurisdiction throughout the republic irrespective of wherever he/she is assigned. In D’Oliviera, the Guyana Court of Appeal was Empathic that whereas a complaint is alleging an offense in one judicial district, a magistrate of another district does not have jurisdiction to hear the complaint. In Pianka v R (PC) (1977), it was established that a ship that is within the territorial waters of a country is within that country’s jurisdiction. The case showed the territorial jurisdiction of summary courts where jurisdiction depended on the statutes. Nevertheless, recent changes to the Act confer authority to the magistrate to exercise jurisdiction throughout the republic.

Administrative Jurisdiction

Section 6(3) of the Summary Courts Act provides that justices hold and put into effect simultaneous command with the magistrate to issue warrants, summonses as well as other Court processes, to grant bail, to bind over witnesses and parties, to take recognisance and to oversee oaths. In all instances when complaints are made before the Justice or Magistrate that an individual has committed or is a suspect in a summary offence in the Justice or Magistrate district, the magistrate or justice usually issue summons directed to the individual. The summons usually state briefly the substance of the complaint and require the individual to make an appearance at a specified time, which is not less than 48 hours after the summons are issued, and at a particular location before the Court in order to respond to complaints and to be further handled in accordance with the law. In case the individual fails to make an appearance as requested, the magistrates usually have the authority to issue a warrant for his/her arrest.

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A Justice or Magistrate who is satisfied, that there is practical justification that a particular carriage, box, building, place and receptacle is intended to be used to commit an offence against an individual punishable on summary conviction may at a particular point issue a warrant authorizing a constable for such things to be searched. The constable is also authorized to confiscate it and take it to the Justice or Magistrate who issued the warrant or to the Justice or Magistrate to be handled accordingly. The Magistrate or Justice has the authority to issue and execute a search warrant at any time, even on Sundays. In case when such a thing is confiscated and brought before the Justice or Magistrate, he/she may choose to detain it or make it to be held taking significant caution, which is upheld until the case is concluded.


In case an individual on trial of an offence liable to be punished by summary conviction with incarceration is found guilty of an offence, and the Court considers that an investigation should be made of the individual mental as well as physical condition ahead of determining a method of handling him/her, the hearing can be adjourned. This is done in order to allow a medical assessment and report to be produced before reprimanding the individual. However, the adjournment should not be for over three weeks at a time.


A Justice or Magistrate, who issues an arrest warrant of an individual, may grant the individual bail through endorsing the bail warrant. The bail has to state that the arrested individual will be released on bail on the condition that he/she makes an appearance before the court at the indicated time. The individual also has a duty to pay the amount wherein the warranty is to be bound. When a judge endorses a warrant for bail under Subsection 107(1) of the Summary Act, then the police officer has to release the defendant from custody after he/she has approved any surety tendered in compliance with the endorsement.

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Power to Stay Proceedings

Courts have the power to stay proceedings. Judges are charged with the duty to pause long before starting proceedings and judges are advised to be most sparing while exercising power to stay proceedings. The staying proceedings protect the legal process from the abuse to which it might be prone without such powers. In Bennett v Horseferry Road Magistrate Court (1993), the court demonstrated that the abuse of the process is not limited to circumstances where the defendant might not receive a fair trial. In this case, the defendant claimed that he had been brought to England because of subterfuge and conspiracy between the South African and the English police. The House of Lords held that it had jurisdiction to inquire how the applicant came within the jurisdiction to maintain the rule of law. The House held that it was an abuse of process for an individual to be forcibly brought into the jurisdiction in disregard of available existing procedures to face criminal charges. It was irrelevant that they could have a fair trial.

Orders of Disclosure

An order of disclosure allows individuals who have effectively accomplished deferred adjudication community supervision to request the court, which placed the individuals on probation, for an order of nondisclosure. Such an order proscribes the criminal justice personnel from ever revealing to the public the individual criminal record related to the offence.

Ex-parte Trial

In case a defendant fails to make an appearance in Court at the place and time indicated in the summons and the Court fully proves that the defendant was served and willingly avoided the service, the court has the authority to continue ex parte to the complaint trial. The Court adjudicates from then as effectually and fully as if the accused was present in obedience to the summons except a written law, on which the grievances are based, directs otherwise. Where the Court has authority to enforce incarceration for offences liable to be punished on summary conviction instead of a fine, it may impose a fine of less than $2,000. In the nonexistence of articulate stipulation, a court may order the accused to serve a particular prison term. In case the Magistrate assumes that it is important or conducive to the ends of justice that any of the witnesses shall be required or permitted to be present during the examination of any other witness, the Magistrate is required to take notes or record the witness evidence in their presence. The Bharath v Cambridge (1972) case established that a conviction made after an ex parte hearing would only be set aside in case there is culpable neglect on the defendant’s part. In this case, there was culpable neglect and hence the conviction made stood.

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Judicial Jurisdiction

All offences are by virtue of all written laws either an indictable or a summary offence through the statutes that create it. A summary offence is usually minor and is less serious than an indictable offence. When an indictable offence is tried summarily, the maximum penalty may be increased to two years imprisonment. Penalties on summary conviction for various offences are usually greater than for the indictable offences, which are tried summarily. After establishing that the accused committed an offence, the Magistrate may inform the accused accordingly. For the purposes of determining whether it is practical to handle a case summarily, during or ahead of the case hearing, the Magistrate can adjourn it and remand the accused person.

The Court subject imposes various amounts in each case to the Act provisions on which the orders are founded. In respect to the sum of money judged to be appropriate, the duration that an individual pays for an order

“does not exceed $40 …14 days

exceeds $40 but does not exceed $200 … 30 days

exceeds $200 but does not exceed $1,000 … 3 months

exceeds $1,000 but does not exceed $2,000…  4 months

exceeds $2,000 but does not exceed $5,000 … 9 months

exceeds $5,000 but does not exceed $25,000 … 3 years

exceeds $25,000 … 5 years” (SCA, 68 (2))

The Court has the authority to dismiss a charge or complaint and discharge the accused on entering into a recognisance in case of a person charged before a Court and the Charge proved. This occurs when the case regards the health, age, mental condition of the charged person and considers it inconvenient to impose whichever punishment or other nominal punishments.

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Indictable Offences through Preliminary Inquiry

A Magistrate holding a preliminary enquiry can commit an accused person for trial for the offence without considering any content of the evidence statements. In Jagessar & Bhola Nandlal v the State (No. 1) (1989) case, the Magistrate and the person who paid the bribe were the only two parties to the corrupt bargain. There lacked a basis for dismissing the charge against the Magistrate, who as the agent of the State, decided to dismiss the case against the accused.

Offences Triable Either Way

All through the preliminary enquiry, the Court may go on to a view to summary trial since the reprimand that a Court has authority to impose under Section 100(2) would be enough and in consideration that the conditions do not make the offence of grave nature and also fail for other justifications necessitate indictment trial.

Judicial Jurisdiction

In accordance with Section 8 of the Petty Civil Court Act, a court has the authority to hear and establish any action based on tort or contract where the debt, damage claimed or demanded is not over $15,000 whether on balance of account or else. The Court also has the authority to hear and settle on any action for the recovery of any expenses, penalty, contribution, and any other demand that it recoverable under the virtue of all written laws.

Youth Offenders (Other Powers)

The Court has to explain to a young person or a child the substance of the alleged offence in comprehensible language. The case against the young offender is dealt with summarily if it is not a case of manslaughter or murder and if it is not considered necessary to ask the guardian or parent. The Court is responsible for explaining to the young offender and the parents the meaning of trial and the place where the trial will take place and ask the child whether he or she consents to be tried summarily. In case of an indictable offence, an order of dismissal is issued.  Evidence from witnesses is heard in case the young person fails to admit the offence and the young person is also afforded a chance to make a statement or give evidence. In case he or she admits to the offence, he/she is asked if he/she wishes to state something in mitigation or extenuation of the sentence or otherwise. The court can decide that a remand is necessary.

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Extradition Matters

Extraditable offences are offences against the law of the territory that are punishable under the law with imprisonment for a term of over 12 months or death. The individual conduct constitutes an offence against the Republic law in case it takes places within the country or an extra-territorial offence in case it occurred in corresponding circumstance outside the country. A magistrate may issue a warrant for the arrest for an individual, who is accused of an extraditable offence or charged to be unlawful at large after being convicted of an extraditable offence. It can be issued in the form specified in Form 3 in the Second Schedule or Form 2 in the Second Schedule.

Coroner’s Act

The Coroner Act contains provisions relating to coroners who inquest into unnatural death cases. In accordance with Coroner Act in Trinidad and Tobago, coroners usually have all the privileges, rights, powers as well as jurisdiction of a Magistrate as are important for the performance of his or her duties. The Chief Justice has the authority to assign several coroners to a magisterial district or one coroner to several districts.

Quasi Judicial Jurisdiction

Administrative government officials or tribunals are usually afforded the power similar to a judge or court of law and have the power to change the case or impose legal penalties on individuals or organizations. Nonetheless, they are subjected to the rules of natural justice in the decision making process. They preside over cases such as money lending, pawn broking, liquor licensing, licensing of dealers and sellers of precious metals and stones, permitting gambling and betting, dance hall and bar license, traffic matters, food and drugs matters and landlord and tenant matters.

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Constitutional Reference Jurisdiction

The Magistrate or Justice presiding in a Court where questions arise on the contravention of any provisions of the Summary Courts Act, may pass on the question(s) to the High Court except in his or her view, asking the question is simply vexatious or frivolous. In Beckles v Dellamore (1965), the Court of Appeal of the Republic held that the existing law had to be read depending on modifications required to bring it in line with the constitution.


The Trinidad & Tobago’s Judiciary is the third arm of the state- it provides an accountable court system in which efficiency and timeliness are the hallmarks, while protecting fairness, integrity, accessibility and equality as well as attracting the public confidence and trust. The Supreme Court and the Magistracy form the judiciary. Under judiciary is the Supreme Court, which consists of the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal. The magistracy comprises of both the Courts of Summary Criminal Jurisdiction and the Petty Civil Courts. These institutions ensure that the court system is accountable and ensures justice for all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. The Justices and magistrate hold powers, rights, benefits and jurisdictions by the Summary Courts Act and all other written laws and they ensure that court processes run smoothly and both young and adult offenders are dealt with accordingly. They have the power to issue arrest warrants, adjourn court hearings, and grant bail. They also have the power to stay proceedings and grant orders of disclosure. Their primary role is to apply and interpret the laws and ensure their constitutionality and they decide disputes between people fairly and honestly in the legal system. The Courts and Judges primary function is to administer justice but they also perform other functions which are non-judicial in nature.


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