Govt to install retrofitted containers at prisons to facilitate virtual hearings

A section of the audience at the Umana Yana

In an effort to fast-track the hearings of cases in the criminal justice system amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, several steps have been implemented to safeguard against the virus, including reducing the need for prisoners to attend court.

This was among a series of important decisions coming out of a stakeholders’ meeting held on Sunday at the Umana Yana in Kingston, Georgetown.

A statement from the Ministry of Legal Affairs said that the Guyana Government, the Judiciary, the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Prisons Service are collaborating to enhance the speedy hearings, trials and disposal of cases in the criminal justice system.

The principal objective of the engagement is to establish the required physical and technical infrastructure for criminal litigation to take place on virtual platforms.

In this regard, the Ministry said a decision was made to install retrofitted containers at the various prisons situated at Camp Street in Georgetown; Lusignan on the East Coast of Demerara; New Amsterdam in Berbice and at Mazaruni.

“These containers will be air-conditioned and equipped with the necessary technical apparatus that will provide a link to the prisoners and the various courthouse. Once implemented, this measure will obviate the need for prisoners to be transported physically out of the prisons and taken to the various courts for their cases,” the Ministry stated.

Another aspect of this project is to similarly equip identified police stations across the country, where defendants will make their first appearances for the charges to be read to them and for them to enter their plea and to make any other relevant applications.

It was noted that several Caribbean jurisdictions are already moving in this direction, with Trinidad and Tobago being the most advanced. The team has agreed to use Trinidad and Tobago as the model to design Guyana’s system.

At Sunday’s engagement, the Government team was led by Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, and included Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn and a number of technical personnel from the National Data Management Authority (NDMA).

Representing the Judiciary were Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George, Justice Naresh Harnanan and Justice Brassington Reynolds.

Assistant Commissioner of Police, Clifton Hicken led a team from the Guyana Police Force while Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels and his staff were also present.

Only Friday, the Judiciary announced that it will be resuming jury trials for the October session of the Demerara Assizes which is scheduled to commence on Tuesday

This was after close collaboration with the Health Ministry and the National COVID-19 Task Force to ensure the safe resumption of trials.

The Judiciary said on Friday that the protocols for the resumption of jury trials were shared with health officials and are on par with international best practices.

According to the Judiciary, this partnership, which started since the onset of the COVID pandemic, has seen discussions on health and safety protocols for the courts, its staff, lawyers, jurors and all court users.  To this end, there will be the assignment of Community Health Officers to the courts to do temperature screening and related health care associated with the prevention and spread of COVID-19.