Chief Justice announces jury trials to resume

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chief Justice Ivor Archie – FILE PHOTO/ROGER JACOB

AFTER a two-year hiatus, jury trials are scheduled to return to the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie on Friday issued the latest practice directions which creates a “hybrid hearing” but prisoners will not be brought to court.

According to notice published in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette, the new court operations will come into effect on Monday (March 14).

Registrars of the Supreme Court will now have to issue summons for potential jurors to make up a pool for 12 criminal courts in Port of Spain (eight), San Fernando (three) and one in Tobago. Judges in the criminal division will also have to prioritise which criminal cases will be ready for jury trials.

The latest practice directions were issued after concerns were raised by at least two judges over the public’s right to access courts after the Prime Minister relaxed the health regulations directing all public servants back to work. It also comes after the Prime Minister criticised the Judiciary over the slow pace of justice after pumping millions to provide resources.

In response to the judges’ concerns, Archie said he was aware that some would like in-person hearings to resume and for staff to be in office each day. However, he said, “this must be balanced against the fact that over the past six months we have had 1,148 staff members on quarantine and as of this week we have 54 still in quarantine, 26 positives being monitored and six deaths.

“In those circumstances, we cannot have confidence that introducing staff into shared spaces such as rather cramped judges’ bays would not exacerbate the situation.”

While judicial officers retained control of the courtroom operations of each trial or hearing, which can be a mixture of in-person or virtual hearings, in the instance of “any jury trial” they must have due regard for the safety an health of members of the jury.

“No juror must be required to sit shoulder to shoulder with another person,” the notice said.

Any juror who feels unwell or has been in close contact with a covid19 patient or a suspected case within seven days must inform the Registrar of the Supreme Court or the trial judge immediately.

“In addition, the name of any person be it a witness, attorney, or any other party, required to attend court must be submitted to judicial officers 48 hours in advance of the scheduled hearing.

The Judiciary said no documents will continue to be electronically filed including those relating to wills, bail and other matters.