Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi hailed an imminent judicial milestone for Trinidad and Tobago today as he said that virtual courtrooms are here to stay and will be the default method for ‘judge alone trials, bail hearings, remand sentences and charge matters’.
The aforementioned legal matters, according to Al-Rawi, take up the bulk of cases involving prisoners and contribute significantly to an annual cost of roughly TT$80 million in prisoner transport.
“This is a huge milestone for Trinidad and Tobago,” said Al-Rawi, at today’s press conference. “It is something we have been working on for the last four to five years. I am extremely pleased.”
Al-Rawi said the government has six virtual courts in operation and promised that this number will be doubled within a week. By then, there should be four each at Golden Grove and the Maximum Security Prison with one apiece at the Women’s Prison, ECRC, YTRC and the Port of Spain prison.
“It involves simply, containerised solutions,” said the attorney general. “We have taken containers and converted them into court rooms.”
Al-Rawi said each container would be retrofitted with relevant IT equipment at a ‘modest cost’ but declined to give the estimate budget for the project. At the second time of asking, he offered only that the containers should cost TT$70,000 each.
The attorney general cooed too about the creation of a new division called ‘Office of the Public Defender’—which will handle cases previously done by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service—and an electronic monitoring system that could be a key component of ‘robust amendments’ to the domestic violence act.
Al-Rawi suggested that the electronic monitoring system could be utilised for the ‘low risk’ prisoners who are being sent home as part of the government’s measures to stop the spread of Covid-19. However, he did not offer details on when the system would be ready or how many persons could be tagged at one time.
Already, 121 persons were set free from prison while another 836 inmates also qualify for early release from prison. The breakdown of the latter inmates are:
- Convicted of summary offences: 84
- Convicted summarily of indictable offences: 62
- Convicted of indictable offences: 1
- Charged with summary offences but unable to access bail: 137
- Convicted of summary or indictable offences and sentenced to terms exceeding one year but in their final year of imprisonment: 459
- Serving terms of imprisonment in default of maintenance fines: 44
- Children charged with summary and indictable offences, who were granted bail that they were unable to access: 16
- Children convicted of summary and indictable offences: 33
In the issue of domestic violence, Al-Rawi explained that victims will receive ‘corresponding bracelets’ to their assailants which would ‘warn you if the person against whom an order is made is in close proximity to you’.
Al-Rawi urged the opposition to support the amendments. That apart he repeatedly condemned the opposition party for leading an unspecified number of litigants against the state in Covid-19 related matters. He dismissed the notion that the government might reach out to the United National Congress (UNC) to play a formal role in the fight against the pandemic.
“Most regrettably but entirely constitutionally, persons have approached the court [and] unfortunately it appears the representatives are only opposition members, in particular Mr Anand Ramlogan and Mr Gerald Ramdeen,” said Al-Rawi. “They have approached the court in a number of matters and I can tell you ladies and gentlemen that they have been occupying a significant amount of resource and time—judicial resource, attorney general’s offices resource, DPP resource, counsel’s resources…”
Al-Rawi referred to an application by Ramdeen to open a liquor mart and another legal challenge on behalf of ‘a popular tv show host’, which was a not-so-subtle reference to Crime Watch host Ian Alleyne.
“I respectfully believe that whilst we all have individual rights whilst we all have access to clarity of those rights into the court system,” said Al-Rawi. “I respectfully believe that we need to think two or three times as to how anxious we are to move the courts and expend resources, when we can simply treat with it—if not on a bi-partisan basis but by way of clarification through a process…”
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh had an awkward moment when CNC3 journalist Akash Samaroo asked him about a statement on his Facebook account in which he appeared to tell a member of the public to ‘mute your tv’ during the question and answers segment with the media.
“My Facebook profile was hacked, I never posted that myself,” said Deyalsingh. “My Facebook profile has been hacked several times in the past two years. If you look at the history of my postings on my profile, I always stay away from these things.
“[…] I will never, ever make a post that is derogatory to the media or you or anyone else… I give you the assurance… I did not make it; and I hope you accept that in the spirit in which it was given.”
As far as the health of the nation goes, Deyalsingh reported that Trinidad and Tobago has 114 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus from 1,298 samples submitted to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). There have been eight deaths and 20 patients discharged.
Wired868 noted that, two weeks ago, the Health Ministry offered a graphic that showed contact tracing for 10 of the 50 confirmed cases. How many patients have the government completed contact tracing for now and when will the public receive an updated graphic?
Deyalsingh replied only that Dr Avery Hinds, director of the Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Division, will return to the press briefing next week to discuss it.
What do you estimate to be the cost for the virtual courts?