Courts only hearing urgent matters in covid19 shutdown

A tent set up at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain.  - ROGER JACOB
A tent set up at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain. - ROGER JACOB

Most court operations will temporarily cease until April 17, in response to the covid19 emergency.

Only matters deemed urgent will be deakt with as the Judiciary responds to the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday locking down TT for 14 days and instructing that gatherings of more than 15 people should be avoided.

On Monday, Chief Justice Ivor Archie issued practice directions for court operations for covid19.

Cases deemed urgent will still be heard, but others will be handled electronically where possible. People who have to fines to pay, including traffic tickets, during this period have also received a one-month extension.

All matters in the magistrates’ court have also been adjourned for the month, and bail matters not deemed urgent will be extended.

This comes after meetings with judges and the Law Association on Monday afternoon.

Last week, the Judiciary told the public to curtail no-essential court visits.

The aim of the directions is to reduce the number of people coming into courthouses to make them and administrative offices as safe as possible for those who need to be there, the rules said.

The practice directions said in the interest of public health, and to maintain appropriate social distancing, attendance in courtrooms would be limited to attorneys, parties and necessary witnesses.

The Judiciary will continue screening for entry into court buildings, and those with flu-like symptoms will be denied entry.

People with legitimate court business who are ill or caring for someone who is ill or in a high-risk category were advised to stay home and ask for an adjournment of their cases by calling or e-mailing the registrars at covid.response.public@ttlawcourts.org, or the judge and their support team.

According to the rules which were gazetted, the court may deem a matter fit for hearing during the month-long suspension period. Anyone involved in an intended action can apply for it to be deemed fit for urgent hearing, but they will have to give reasons why it should be heard during the emergency period.

Until April 17, only emergency matters, domestic violence hearings and evidentiary hearings in criminal trials (ongoing trials) will be heard. All others will be suspended for the month.

Judges, masters, magistrates and registrars were encouraged to use telephone or video technology for all necessary hearings.

All Court of Appeal sittings will be suspended, except for those deemed urgent.

In the criminal division, all sittings were also suspended except those deemed urgent, and matters under the Proceeds of Crime Act, including detention and forfeiture of cash; those under the Interception of Communication Act; those under the Civil Asset Recovery and Management and Unexplained Wealth Act and bail matters.

Jurors summoned for jury service for April are no longer needed. and those who applied for exemptions do not have to come to court.

Jurors told to return on March 23 were discharged.

In the Civil Courts, sittings were suspended, except for those deemed urgent by the judge, and only those under the Anti-Terrorism and Mental Health Acts and applications of writs of habeas corpus will be heard.

Sittings of the Family Court are also suspended, except for urgent cases and those involving domestic violence, maintenance applications for orders to use CourtPay and urgent custody applications.

In the magistrates court, sittings are suspended and only those deemed fit for hearing during the month are domestic violence cases, maintenance applications, custody applications, matters under the Proceeds of Crime Act, and part-heard preliminary inquiries for murder, kidnapping, robbery with violence/aggravation, possession of firearms and ammunition; gang related matters and possession of drugs for trafficking, once they are considered urgent by the magistrate.

Attorneys and the public were discouraged from filing new probate applications or letters of administrations, however, new applications can be filed online with the e-probate system. Evidence and other probate applications can be e-mailed to Probate.online@ttlawcourts.org

The practice directions also said for all deadlines not specifically addressed in the rules, time will cease to run until April 20.

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