First jury trial in rape case being heard in O’Meara judicial centre

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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JURY trials have resumed after a two-year lull because of the pandemic.

The first jury trial is being heard at the judiciary’s Judicial Centre at the former UTT campus in O’Meara, by Justice Hayden St Clair-Douglas.

Before the court is Randy Phillip, who is on an indictment for rape. His trial began on June 7, after a nine-member panel of jurors and four alternates were selected from a pool of 81 potential jurors on June 1.

In a statement on Thursday, the Judiciary said the resumption was part of its continued effort to maintain and improve access to justice.

The O’Meara judicial centre was established with the approval of the Cabinet and allows for strict adherence to covid19 guidelines set by the Chief Justice for court operations.

The courtrooms at O’Meara are fitted with support technology to allow jurors to be safely distanced from each other – in keeping with pandemic protocols – yet see all material and evidence presented.

The judge, attorneys or witnesses can also attend remotely, but jurors will remain physically present in the courtroom.

Additionally, new measures that use technology to replace tasks which previously relied on physical transmission of evidence have been implemented by way of evidence software.

“Physical evidence will no longer have to be passed from person to person.”

New software, called CaseLines, will be used to allow judges’ teams to secure, prepare, collate, share and present evidence in legal bundles, documents and audio and video evidence in a single browser-based system. At O’Meara, jurors will remain separated and will follow the evidence on individual screens.

Jury trials were suspended in March 2020, and remained in place until March 14 this year, when new practice directions were issued permitting their resumption. Criminal trials of both the High Court and magistrates court can be heard at O’Meara

“Conducting jury trials, while ensuring safety measures are in place, has been a major issue internationally for all judiciaries during the pandemic.

“No traditional courtroom designs allowed for proper physical distancing among jurors given the requirements for social distancing and other public health regulations outlined by the Ministry of Health,” the judiciary said.

The O’Meara centre also houses virtual access customer centres to provide booths for witnesses or litigants to appear virtually in courts.