Arrived on the RMS St Helena on 29 June was the island's newest addition to the local legal team, Chief Magistrate, John MacRitchie.
Having taken the oaths of office on 2 July, in the presence of Governor Capes, he begins a long term contract of 5 years. MacRitchie will be present for his first day of court today; I took the opportunity to speak with him.
"My first task will be to find out how the law operates in St Helena. So change will be slow to begin with," said MacRitchie. "I'm very familiar with the details of the law but, in terms of the procedures that operate here, I need to see what's happening and over time I will make various recommendations to the Magistrates as to how we conduct business in the Magistrates' Court. Hopefully, improvements can be made where they are needed. One of the things I've emphasised is that I am here to be a part of a team. Magistrates here are regarded extremely highly, not only by those who I've spoken to on the island but, certainly with the island, in terms of what they have achieved, especially with the resources they have available to them. My role, I hope will bring in a demonstrably independent aspect to the Magistrates' Court and that as a legally qualified person I'm able to assist Magistrates to apply the law."
MacRitchie learnt about the job whilst browsing the internet and has had an interest in the island for a number of years. "I've been looking at St Helena for many years because my ancestors were here," revealed MacRitchie, "back in 1821 as the surgeon to the East India Company who, at that time administered St Helena and therefore I've always known about St Helena. I saw the job and thought it fitted me perfectly, in terms of what was being looked for; I applied for it and was fortunate enough to be given it."
For MacRitchie, one of the attractions of the job was its variety. He explained, "I think the whole experience is something I'm looking forward to, I'm not only the Chief Magistrate and therefore sitting in the Magistrates' Court. On most occasions, not all occasions there will be times when I will not chair the Magistrates' Court even though I have a right to do so, in terms of the Magistrates' Court Ordinance."
Within his role MacRitchie will also be mentoring and training Magistrates that are already on island. He said, "I will sometimes sit as what is referred to as a 'Winger' sitting with the chairperson of the bench. On other occasions I'll observe what's happening and have a briefing afterwards to see if improvements can be made or if training may be necessary.
One of the attractions of the job is that it's not just sitting as Chief Magistrate, I'm also the Registrar of Lands. I'm also the Coroner and will be working with the existing two Coroners to update the present Coroners' ordinance over the next year and hopefully bring place in an effective and efficient system." MacRitchie's role as Lands Registrar will begin next week. In addition to this he will adopt the new post of Media Standards Commissioner later this year.