A proposed change to the Criminal Procedure Code would allow prisoners to appear via video link for bail hearings and to consult with attorneys.
The provision would allow any prisoner, whether on remand or serving out a custodial sentence, to appear before the court via video link “for purposes of mention or remand” unless a court orders otherwise.
The court can still order a prisoner to appear for a bail hearing “in the interests of justice” and can allow the prisoner to appear on his or her own request.
The video link court conferencing has been in the works for some time, but the need for it was thrown into sharp focus when, in February, a relatively minor incident with a van full of inmates turned ugly.
Eight Northward remand inmates were left locked in a prison van outside the George Town courthouse for a brief time as they awaited transport back to the prison.
According to Northward prison officials, a security device in the van caused the doors to be locked when the driver got out of the van, trapping the eight prisoners in the back of the van, with the keys locked inside as well. Prison officials said it took about 20 minutes to unlock the vehicle once they were notified of the situation, during which time one of the prisoners trapped inside collapsed.
While trying to inform security officials outside the locked van that one of the inmates had fallen, the remaining prisoners started banging on the cage inside the transport area of the van. That eventually caused one of the van’s back windows to break, prison officials said.
In the end, a spare set of keys for the van was retrieved and the prisoners were taken back to Northward. The man who collapsed was hospitalized, treated and released within a few hours. Two other inmates who had ligature marks around their wrists caused by the handcuffs they were wearing when the struggle ensued were also checked out at the hospital.
In addition to security concerns, overcrowding at the downtown George Town court complex is becoming a greater problem by the day.
An example of this occurred on July 17, when three courtrooms in the Law Courts Building and three more in Kirk House across the street were not enough to contain all of the matters scheduled.
To accommodate the lists, Magistrate Valdis Foldats held Traffic Court in the Town Hall, across from Heroes Square, in George Town.