AIMING to restore and increase access to fair court hearings, within a reasonable time, containers at the Lusignan Prison barracks at the Cecil Kilkenny Training College on the East Coast of Demerara were retrofitted into 14 courtrooms that will enable virtual hearings of cases.
By now, the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are well-ventilated and the judicial system was not spared from these disruptions.
At the launch of the virtual courts at the Lusignan prison on Monday, Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, however said, “Article 144 of the constitution provides for a fair hearing within a reasonable time but the pandemic is no exception to that fair hearing in a reasonable time and therefore, as members of the administration of justice, we were mindful of duty and mindful of our constitutional imperatives.”
She related that a task force was put together to determine how summary and criminal cases continued despite the pandemic; consideration was given to how this might exacerbate the backlog of cases in the judicial system.
Remote hearings were done for persons in custody while the Magistrates’ Courts kept hearing cases, though in-person hearings were limited.
WhatsApp, telephones, Skype and Zoom were all platforms used to connect individuals- defendants, witnesses and investigators- to the courtrooms, to ensure that the hearings and access to justice continued.
Through the use of a statistical audit detailing prison statistics, the judiciary was able to revisit policies of imprisonment and in some cases reduced bail and prioritise hearing those cases where the defendants were in custody for long periods.
Beyond those measures, though, efforts were made to streamline these virtual judicial processes, mitigating challenges to access to technology. That led to the creation of the virtual ‘container courts’, which were pioneered in Trinidad and Tobago.
These courts, the Chancellor emphasised, can make a difference in the criminal justice system.
They are not able to allow for hearings during the pandemic, but they will allow for a safer and more efficient hearing of cases since it reduces the need for persons to travel far distances and can readily connect police investigators, witnesses, litigants and defendants.
“The virtual courtrooms are intended to accelerate hearings and trials,” Justice Cummings-Edwards emphasised, adding, “these container courts now provide hope. It is a source of hope in difficult times.”
(Read more at:- https://guyanachronicle.com/2020/12/29/455070/)