High Court to restart criminal trials with int’l best practices against COVID-19 

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The Judiciary of Guyana has announced that it will be resuming jury trials for the October session of the Demerara Assizes which is scheduled to commence next 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, it has seen the assignment of Community Health Officers to courts to do temperature screening and related healthcare associated with the prevention and spread of COVID-19.

These Community Health workers are stationed at the entrances to many courts, particularly in Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara); Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica); Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne and Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice).

It has also yielded medical advice, information visits and care and the provision of supplies to court staff and users over the past six months.

During September 2020, officials from the Health Ministry and the National COVID-19 Task Force met with the Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George, Justice Brassington Reynolds, Justice Nareshwar Harnanan and Registrar of the Supreme Court, Sueanna Lovell.

The high-level team comprised Head of the COVID-19 Task Force, Colonel Nazrul Hussain; Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Karen Boyle; and Head of the Emergency Response Unit Dr Colin James.

According to a statement from the Judiciary, discussions were had with the team and inspection was done of the existing facilities for criminal trials with the jury.

“The layout of the courts along with the installation of plexiglass, transparent screens around fixtures and furniture and proposed physical distancing of the judge, court staff, prosecuting and defence counsel, and jurors in the courtrooms have been approved,” the statement added.

Discussions also centred around sanitation protocols. This led to the Health Ministry sending another team of officials and sanitisation of all courts and court offices at the High Court in Demerara was done on Thursday, October 1, 2020.

The Health Ministry and the Supreme Court, therefore, said it wishes to assure court users that all necessary public health arrangements for the safe conduct of criminal trials are in place. The Supreme Court said it will continue this invaluable collaboration with the Health Ministry and the National Task Force to ensure that all courts throughout the length and breadth of Guyana are safe for all.