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Courts to suspend new jury trials and try to wrap up cases

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Chief Justice Brian Moree, QC.

By FARRAH JOHNSON

fjohnson@tribunemedia.net

CHIEF Justice Brian Moree announced that the judiciary will postpone new criminal jury trials until April 14, try to wrap up ongoing Supreme Court criminal cases in the next seven days and limit the number of people in court rooms.

The measures, among others, are part of the judiciary’s “coronavirus mitigation protocols”.

Mr Moree said the first phase of the mitigation plan involves enhancing cleaning regimes, placing hand sanitising stations at strategic locations and increasing vigilance and control at the entry points of all court buildings.

He added that judicial officers would also be adhering to social distancing policies and use video conferencing, telephone conference calls, online conferencing video applications and disposition of applications on the basis of written submissions whenever that is possible to limit in person hearings.

“When an in person hearing cannot be avoided, we have imposed the following restrictions: attendance in courtrooms will be limited to persons who must be there and press representatives subject to maximum numbers imposed under these protocols; at least three feet will be maintained between persons in the courtroom whenever possible; and the duration and frequency of the in person hearings will be limited by the presiding judicial officer.”

Mr Moree said these protocols – which would take effect today through April 14 – will be adopted to reduce the number of people frequenting the court buildings.

Regarding the criminal side of the Supreme Court, Mr Moree said partly heard criminal trials before a sitting jury would be completed unless the judge adjourned the case for reasons unconnected to the coronavirus protocols.

“All of these cases should be dealt with within the next seven days,” he said. “This is to avoid the need to dismiss the jury and start the case again which we do not want to do.

“New criminal jury trials in the Supreme Court will be suspended until April 14, 2020 when the position will be reviewed on the basis of prevailing circumstances.”

Mr Moree also said arraignments will continue by video link to the Remand Court at Bahamas Department of Correctional Services.

He also said bail applications heard by judges will proceed “on the basis of a video link with the Remand Court at the correctional facility together with the lawyer who is involved in court before the judge.”

“In this way, we hope to avoid or at least minimise transporting inmates of the correctional facility to the courts for obvious reasons during this period when we are all dealing with the coronavirus.”

Mr Moree said urgent bail applications will be heard by a judge with the lawyer alone in the courtroom or by video conference with a lawyer in their office. “If the accused person is in court, the presiding judicial officer will adhere to social distancing procedures in order to protect those persons in the courtroom.

“For case management conferences, where the accused is in custody, these applications will be heard by video link with the Remand Court at the correctional services facility with the lawyer in court.

“Where the accused is on bail, these case management conferences will be heard by video conference whenever possible.”

As it relates to the civil side of the Supreme Court, Mr Moree assured that partly heard trials will be completed.

Still, he explained that social distancing procedures will be followed and witnesses will give evidence by video conference.

New civil trials before the Supreme Court will also proceed by video conference.

“If this is not possible, the judge will decide if the trial can proceed by in court hearing provided there are no more than 12 persons in the courtroom and social distancing procedures can be followed,” he said.

“The trial will be adjourned for a date after April 14, 2020 if such procedures cannot be followed.”

According to Mr Moree interlocutory applications also will be heard by video link, telephone conference or disposition on the basis of written submissions.

He said if none of those options is possible, the judge will determine if the hearing is to be adjourned to a date after April 14 or proceed on the “basis of social distancing procedures.”

Mr Moree said arraignments and first time pleas in the Magistrate’s Court will proceed subject to social distancing procedures, with no more than 15 persons allowed in the room at one time.

He added that all hearings were going to be sequenced “under the oversight of the police,” to avoid overcrowding and congestion.

“Bail applications before the magistrate or variation of bail applications will proceed under the same guidelines as applicable to arraignments,” he continued.

“Thirdly, new trials on the criminal side of the Magistrate’s Court will be suspended in criminal cases, juvenile cases and coroner inquests until March 30, 2020 when the position will be reviewed. A determination will be made at that time with regard to the future course of these trials.”

Mr Moree said that first pleas in traffic cases in the Magistrate’s Court will proceed, but no more than 20 persons would be allowed in the courtroom at a time.

He also said new trials in traffic cases will be suspended until March 30, when the position will be reviewed.

“Part heard criminal trials and inquests by the coroner will proceed in the Magistrate’s Court subject to social distancing procedure. One, where the accused or any one of them where there is more than one accused is in custody; two, juvenile cases where all the parties, witnesses, and lawyers are resident on the island where the court is sitting subject to social distancing procedures.

“All other part heard criminal cases will be suspended until March 30, 2020.”

Mr Moree said only the press and persons who must be in attendance at the trial will be allowed in the courtroom.

He added that there would be no new coroner inquests until March 30, although he said voluntary bills of indictment procedures will continue as usual.

As it relates to the civil side of Magistrate’s Court, Mr Moree said that new and partly heard civil trials will be suspended until March 30.

“Urgent applications in cases where hearings had been suspended can be made by application to the chief magistrate and in appropriate cases where she is satisfied that the matter is sufficiently urgent, she will direct it to be dealt with again on the basis of our social distancing policies,” he said.

“All travel by magistrates on circuit to the Family Islands will be suspended until April 14, 2020 when the position will be reviewed.”

Mr Moree insisted the circumstances surrounding the implementation of the mitigation protocol is “very fluid and dynamic.”

He explained that the judiciary will respond with necessary changes to these procedures as “developments warrant on the ground.”

Mr Moree said the purpose of their intervention methods was to ensure that the courts are able to “maintain their operations.”

He insisted it was “not a viable option” to completely close the criminal justice system and added it was “very difficult” to shut down the civil justice system.

ºHe added that while there is a need to upgrade the judiciary’s “technology platform,” he believes that they do have the capacity in all of their criminal courts and in “many of their other courts” to conduct video conferencing hearings.

Mr Moree said while the suspensions will cause a backlog in the judiciary’s system, officials will make “every effort” to ensure that displaced cases and applications get “first priority” during the rescheduling process.

Comments

TalRussell 4 years, 2 months ago

Colony was gifted with appoint of Comrade Chief Justice Brian, QC.

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