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New trials on hold as courts adopt coronavirus measures

The coronavirus pandemic is causing a wave of disruptions in the judicial system, with courts suspending new trials to help contain the disease.

The highly anticipated corruption trial of former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Kenred Dorsett scheduled for March 23 will be delayed — along with all other upcoming criminal and civil trials.

Head of the judiciary, Chief Justice Brian Moree, QC, on Tuesday announced that, as of today, all new trials in the Supreme Court and Magistrates’ Court will be delayed.

New trials in the Supreme Court are on hold until April 14 and those in the Magistrates’ Court are suspended until March 30.

However, part-heard criminal and civil trials in the Supreme Court and lower courts will be concluded, Moree said. All travel for magistrates to hear matters on Family Islands where there are no resident magistrates have also been suspended until April 14.

Moree acknowledged that the move would affect the current backlog of cases in the court system.

He said, “We are going to make every effort to ensure that cases which are displaced as a result of these protocols will get some priority in terms of rescheduling when life gets back to normal.

“But there will be some dislocation, and there will be some inconvenience. And I’m afraid that’s the price we will have to pay, given the crisis we are currently in.”

The judiciary intends to make use of technology to limit in-court hearings. Social distancing protocols of at least three feet will be followed when court hearings are necessary, Moree said.

Supreme Court arraignments, bail application and case management conferences will take place by video-link from the Remand Court at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services while their lawyers are in court.

Emergency bail applications will also be heard with the lawyer alone in court or by videoconferencing.

In the Magistrates’ Courts, no more than 15 persons will be allowed inside the courtroom for arraignments. Traffic court arraignments will continue and a maximum of 20 people will be allowed inside court at one time.

Moree said the court’s mitigation policies are fluid and include a worst-case scenario of a judicial officer contracting the disease.

Moree also announced “enhanced cleaning regimes in all high-traffic public areas of court buildings, involving multiple cleaning cycles throughout the day with sanitizing liquids”.

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Artesia Davis

Artesia primarily covers court stories, but she also writes extensively about crime.

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