Most court services put on hold

The Hall of Justice in Port of Spain. - JEFF K MAYERS
The Hall of Justice in Port of Spain. - JEFF K MAYERS

Almost all court proceedings throughout TT have been suspended for a month in an effort to mitigate concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

Although some charge cases (those recently charged with a crime) were taken to the Port of Spain magistrates’ courts, some matters were dealt with via teleconferencing between registrars and attorneys.

At the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain, only one criminal court judge sat and jurors in that court were told to return in early April. If the judge is unable to start a case by then, those jurors will possibly be dismissed.

Jurors who were summoned for service in April have been advised that they will no longer be needed, while those who form part of the pool for March have been told they are discharged. Those empanelled in on-going trials will be advised once the judges hearing those cases make a determination after discussions with attorneys.

At least one murder trial, involving eight men, has been adjourned to March 31 at which time a decision will be made on how to proceed since court operations have been suspended until April 17, unless deemed urgent.

At the Hall of Justice, two civil court judges sat while another used video-conference facilities, and the Court of Appeal gave a decision on a retrial in a murder appeal.

Late Monday night, practice directions were issued by Chief Justice Ivor Archie on sittings of all courts including the Industrial Court.

All bail matters not deemed urgent will be extended.

Effective until April 17, for now, only emergency matters, domestic violence hearings and evidentiary hearings in criminal trials (or on-going criminal trials) will be heard, and 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.

The Judiciary said the payment of fines, including traffic tickets, have been extended by a month.

A member of one of its task force teams told Newsday, the objective of the practice directions is to drastically decrease the presence of people in the court and in the building, while, at the same time, not hindering access to justice.

“Lawyers and the public have to realise that it is not business as usual. The Government is apparently trying to get ahead of the (covid19) curve before the spike.”

On Tuesday, the Judiciary also issued a statement saying that it had no case of covid19.

It said a number of "unfortunate rumours are circulating which falsely claim that members of staff of the Judiciary are affected with covid19."

The notice said no employee of the Judiciary has been confirmed as having the covid19 virus.

Also on Tuesday, the Law Association advised members that it will temporarily close its offices and its secretariat to all face-to-face interaction and all day-to-day business until further notice.

Most of its employees will work from home from Wednesday.

Meetings until April 3 will be cancelled or switched to conference calls and membership services have been suspended.

A separate advisory by the association's president Douglas Mendes,SC, addressed the practice directions issued by the Chief Justice.

Mendes said the council had received numerous queries as to the interpretation of various aspects of directions from members. He said the council has reached out to the Assembly of Southern Lawyers and has asked them to provide a summary of the queries raised by its members.

"We intend to collate the queries and dispatch them under cover of a letter to the Registrar of the Supreme Court for the attention of the Chief Justice," Mendes advised.

He added, "I take this opportunity to remind all of you however that the practice direction was issued in the face of a pandemic and that the clear objective is to reduce the number of persons in the courts, including the registries, whilst preserving access to justice."

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