SCORES of remand prisoners were brought to the Port of Spain Criminal Assizes to determine the status of their indictments as part of a criminal case flow management hearing to clear the burgeoning backlog of cases in the system.
Some 55 prisoners, in capital and non-capital cases, appeared in two batches before Justice Gillian Lucky in the Sixth Criminal Court on Thursday.
Also present assisting in the process was Assistant Registrar of the High Court Nirala Bansee-Sookhai, prosecutors from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the police, prisons as well as a representative from the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority (LAAA). Lucky told the prisoners they were not under pressure to participate in the hearing.
“If you want to change your mind at any point in time...This is just to give you the status you need to access the justice you want and require.”
She explained once the status of their indictments was determined, if they chose to plead guilty and receive a maximum sentence indication, their cases would be assigned to one of the ten criminal court judges.
Another group of prisoners is to be brought to court and Clerks of the Peace at the magistrates’ courts will be questioned on the process on their end.
Lucky thanked the Prison Service for putting flyers in the various prisons inviting prisoners to take part in the initiative, which is being called the access to justice status hearing, and the police for efficiently bringing the large groups of prisoners to court.
During the hearing, prisoners who did not have an attorney were able to fill out applications in court, for legal aid lawyers.
One prisoner who has been committed to stand trial for the rape of a minor, told the judge he wanted to plead guilty but wanted to know what sentence he will receive if he does so.
A 2017 Joint Select Committee of Parliament report on the criminal case flow management in the justice system observed that a significant part of the delay occurred when an accused person is committed to stand trial and awaits a date of hearing. This process, the committee said, may take between three to five years.
The report also noted there was no system in place for the DPP to be notified of the number of people committed to stand trial on a monthly basis and the DPP is only aware of a committal when the records are sent to his office from the respective magistrates’ courts.
Indictments are then filed in the High Court, together with the original copies of depositions.