Judges given courtroom primer

Cayman’s computerised courtroom came under scrutiny last week during the eighth annual Caribbean Heads of Judiciary Conference.

Participants visited the Law Courts Building and spent a half-hour in Court 5, the courtroom designed for trials of alleged fraud or white-collar crime.

Such cases typically involve thousands of pieces of paper. Making copies for the judge, attorneys and jurors could take that number into the millions. But scanning the documents electronically and putting them into a computer programme makes displaying them faster and easier.

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie gave this preliminary explanation of how technology is used in the purpose-built courtroom. Police Detective Orville Williams used the main computer to call up a variety of documents, from hand-written memos to printed records. The visiting judges sat in the jury box, where six monitors are shared by 12 jurors. They listened, watched and did not hesitate to ask questions.

They wanted to know, for example, how documents could be accessed by attorneys or jurors after they had been shown on screens, how the documents get marked as exhibits and whether the originals are available if required.

The Chief Justice explained that attorneys from both sides agree at pre-trial meetings what papers could be used for the trial. Those papers are then scanned and given a number. Their authenticity is accepted. When a paper is needed, the assisting officer types in its number and the document comes up on screen. But the physical originals are kept under lock and key and can be produced if required. The database is also on disc, so attorneys can access what they want via laptop at any time.

Jurors do not have independent access, the Chief Justice said, until it comes time for them to deliberate their verdict.

Another feature of the courtroom, along with the monitors and large-screen TV, is an overhead projector that can be used to produce the image of a document on a pull-down screen. The Chief Justice said this is a useful tool when a witness needs to point something out in the evidence.

The judges also asked about transcripts – the record made by court stenographers who take down word for word everything that is said. The Chief Justice advised that equipment is in place for real time reporting. Attorneys need only plug in their own laptop to follow on screen what the stenographer has typed. This aid is especially invaluable during cross-examination.

The visitors were also interested in the equipment for video-link conferencing. The system, like closed-circuit television, allows a witness half-way around the world to give evidence in a trial held in Cayman. The process is expensive, the Chief Justice acknowledged, but said it is less expensive than flying the person here and providing accommodation — especially if the witness is in custody.

The Chief Justice agreed that the video link could be used for mentions of defendants in custody so that they would not have to be transported to court.

The final demonstration was of the website shared by the Judiciary and the Legal Department. Courts computer analyst Dwain Brathwaite scrolled through sections of information, while the Chief Justice commented and fielded questions.

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