As the judiciary adjusts to the post Irma realities certain changes have to be made. One such change – as His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert mentioned – is the decision to allow remanded prisoners to have their court hearings done via video link.
In explaining the decision Governor Jaspert said in statement this week that: “In order to facilitate prisoners on remand awaiting trial to attend criminal proceedings, the House of Assembly passed the Audio Visual Link Act 2017 which will allow prisoners to attend court proceedings from their location at Her Majesty’s Prison. This is a welcome innovation in the Territory’s judicial system and will ensure a more efficient handling of criminal matters at both the Magistrate’s Court and the High Court. A further update will be given on the commencement of this process.”
The video link initiative is just one of the changes that have been made to facilitate the functioning of the judiciary. Since the passage of hurricane Irma the Territory’s courts have not been functioning as in the past. In fact the Magistrates Court has been operating from the Road Town Police Station.
The Magistrate’s Court commenced hearings for arrest matters on September just days after Irma passed. Now the Governor announced that two additional venues have been declared as Magistrate’s Courts – the Ritter and Quastisky Buildings. As a result the first Magistrate’s Court hearings for traffic, civil and quasi matters commenced on 19 February.
Meanwhile, it was disclosed that the United Kingdom Government is funding the construction of a temporary Magistrate’s Court room which, once complete, will be used whilst extensive reconstruction of the Magistrate’s Court at John’s Hole is undertaken.
Governor Jaspert said that this will be funded through the Caribbean Development Bank(CDB) Rapid Recovery loan. “To address the more immediate needs of re-establishing the Criminal Court, the House of Assembly has graciously agreed to share their Chamber so that the Magistrate’s Court can resume on February 20,” His Excellency said.
Court facilities on Virgin Gorda have also been damaged and Governor Jaspert said that a suitable place to resume the Magistrate’s Court sittings on that sister island is being sought. “While we await the renovations to the Administration Building through the CDB loan, I appreciate the continued patience of our Virgin Gorda residents who have matters before the Courts. In the interim, the Magistrate’s Court will seek to hear matters on Tortola for Virgin Gorda residents who are currently on remand at Her Majesty’s Prison,” the Governor said.
His Excellency also added that due to a myriad of challenges following the hurricanes, it was not feasible to conduct High Court hearings of its Criminal, Civil and Commercial divisions in the Territory. However, the Governor explained that following consultations with stakeholders, provisions were made to conduct as many hearings as possible remotely.
“Commercial and Civil Court hearings were conducted in St. Lucia from September to December. The Civil Court also worked via videolink from St Lucia, enabling the disposition of a number of critical cases. In November, the Court of Appeal was also able to hold its normal scheduled sitting for the Virgin Islands, again from St Lucia…As we have progressed, and following the return of a number of our judges, sittings for the Commercial Court are now taking place at the International Arbitration Centre ahead of the completion of renovations at the Commercial Court which are progressing well. “
Similarly, Governor Jaspert mentioned that full sittings of the Civil Court have recently resumed at Sakal Place. And a new High Court Judge is expected to arrive later this week, which will allow the criminal matters in the High Court to resume in the coming weeks. Additionally the Governor mentioned that the Court of Appeal is scheduled for the week beginning 26 February.