IN response to the issuance of new covid19 restrictions, the Chief Justice has issued new pandemic directions for the courts.
In addition to creating 23 virtual access customer centres for virtual hearings, and an extension for paying fines and fixed-penalty public health tickets until June 1, there is now a total ban on in-person hearings at all courthouses, except for domestic-violence cases by appointment.
The new covid19 practice directions were issued at midnight on Thursday. They took immediate effect and run until further notice.
In recent weeks, the Judiciary has had to close several court buildings and quarantine staff. With the ban on in-person hearings, judges and magistrates were told to hold hearings by electronic means only.
All jury trials were suspended and no prisoner may go to a court building physically unless directed by the court.
Judges and magistrates were told to direct witnesses to give evidence from a specific location or from one of the 23 Judiciary’s VAC centres.
The centres are at the UTT building at the O’Meara Industrial Park, Arima; the Judiciary’s administration building at King’s Court on Frederick Street, Port of Spain; the Children’s Court (North) building in St Clair; the Point Fortin magistrates’ court building; the New Family court building in Princes Town; the Supreme Court building in Tobago; the Scarborough magistrates’ court; and the Tobago Family court building.
The latest practice directions also suspended the payment of fines, including fixed-penalty tickets for not wearing a facemask. These payments, excluding maintenance payments, have been suspended until May 31.
Any public health fixed-penalty notices issued on or before May 31 can be paid from June 1-August 10.
Hearings for contesting the notices – covering the period September 5, 2020-May 31 – run from September 7-June 14, 2022.
Approval of surety for bail will be by appointment and access to the court for manual filing will also be by appointment. All other filings will be done electronically.
The latest practice directions noted that while provision had been made for all traffic tickets issued before May 26, 2020, to be settled in six months by paying 50 per cent of the penalty, the collection of payment has been suspended until further notice.
There have been two previous extensions for paying traffic tickets.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister announced new public health restrictions as covid19 cases surge into the hundreds.