THE second ever virtual judge-alone murder trial was aborted by the presiding judge on Tuesday. Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds said she had to be her own guard against the tribunal being compromised by certain correspondence by the prosecution.
Ramsumair-Hinds said while she could dis-abuse her mind to the e-mailed correspondence pertaining to a witness, yet to testify, she stressed that justice must be seen to be done and she wanted to ensure there was no room for the perception of prejudice or bias on her part.
On trial before her was Carlos Cezair charged with the June 7, 2008 murder of Elvis Emile in Sangre Grande. In her ruling to abort the trial, Ramsumair-Hinds also ruled on an application by the State to move the trial back to the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain. She said it was ill-timed.
Last Friday, prosecutors said it was the position of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that his north office will not become a courthouse and no evidence will be taken there for criminal trials. Instead, he maintained that the taking of evidence will return to the Hall of Justice now that covid19 public health regulations have been relaxed to allow for gatherings of up to 25 people.
The DPP cited congestion of traffic at his office which made it difficult to maintain physical distancing. Ramsumair-Hinds said the application was ill-timed. She said the only fetter to electronic trials, including murder trials, was a successful application that the case was unsuitable to be heard virtually.
She also said the sudden position that capital cases were unsuitable for electronic hearings was one that could be dealt with by robust case management.
Agreeing that all state organisations are required to carefully look at their operations to avoid jepoardising the health and safety of their staff, Ramsumair-Hinds said what applied for the Office of the DPP, was the same for the Judiciary. “As it is for the DPP, so it is for the Judiciary,” she said.
She referred to court staff, including security officers, cleaning staff and support staff, who share a bay for an office. “You can see my hesitation to cause us to all decend on the hall,” she said.
She also suggested the Office of the Attorney General finding places for criminal trials to be held virtually.“Each case and each witness must be managed on its own merits,” she said. After asking if he had another almost 20 years to wait again, the judge apoologised to Cezair and assured him that his new trial should be set shortly.