Jury trials resume with strong safety protocols in place

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Justice Brassington Reynolds continuing his trial.

The Judiciary of Guyana on Tuesday resumed jury trials.

The Demerara Assizes is now opened and two juries were empaneled in the cases of The State v DesmondJames and The State v Keron Taylor.

The judges presiding are Justice Brassington Reynolds, Justice Navindra Singh and Justice Priya Sewnarine-Beharry.

Jury trials were suspended since March 2020 due to the incidence of COVID-19. On the 5th October 2020, Justice Brassington Reynolds resumed a jury trial which commenced in March 2020 but it had to be adjourned due to the pandemic.

As such, the Judiciary said these resumptions are a monumental achievement as many jurisdictions worldwide have been unable to restart this essential judicial service.

The Judiciary of Guyana explained that it has been working assiduously over the past six months to facilitate the safe resumption of jury trials for the October Session of the Demerara Assizes.

Similar efforts are being undertaken with respect to the Essequibo and Berbice Assizes.

Justice Navindra Singh during his trial

“These efforts at resuming jury trials have been in recognition of the fact that Jury service is integral to the criminal justice system of Guyana,” a statement from the Judiciary said.

The Judiciary of Guyana has seriously weighed its responsibility to the public health and safety of staff and court users and its obligation to ensure constitutional rights of the accused are upheld.

“We have considered that in practical terms not only accused persons rights are affected but also victims have been deprived of the opportunity of having their matters resolved and obtaining closure.

“Attorneys at law, particularly those practising in the criminal field, police officers and witnesses have also been affected in not having the cases addressed. Members of the public who have an interest in the criminal justice system have not been able to witness trials.

“Having access to justice is a right of all members of our society,” it said.

The Judiciary said it also notes the continuing backlog in criminal cases as a result of the delay in hearings.

It explained that balancing all those factors, and after consultation with the Medical and Public Health authorities, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Police and the Prison authorities, and the Bar Association, it “carefully moved to resume  jury trials”.

Jurors on the western corridor outfitted with monitors

A number of measures have been put in place for the safe conduct of cases. For instance:

1. Judges, Jurors, court staff, attorneys-at-law and all court users will be socially distanced.

2. Cameras, video link and video conferencing facilities have been installed.

3. Plexi glass has been placed around witness boxes, desks and other furniture

4. Sanitizing dispensers are in all courtrooms and constant sanitisation of jury seating, court furniture, exhibits and the courtroom will be done.

5. Temperature screening will also be conducted upon entry of everyone to the court compound.

6. The summoning of a jury panel is staggered to allow for social distancing.

7. Court corridors have been utilized to accommodate the empaneling of juries.

8. The media is allowed to report on the trials remotely by audio visual link.

9. The members of the public especially relatives of accused or victims may also view trials by video link. These measures are dealt with extensively in our protocols for the resumption of jury trials during the Covid 19 pandemic.

The Judiciary has a constitutional mandate to ensure that justice is served and the rule of law is maintained.The Judiciary of Guyana said it will continue its collaboration with all stakeholders to ensure that all Courts throughout the length and breadth of Guyana continue to be safe for all as they dispense justice.