Lawmakers approve court video links

A new law approved last week allows prisoners to appear via video link for bail hearings and to consult with their attorneys.

The law lets any prisoner, whether on remand or serving out a custodial sentence, 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 their own request.

Cayman Islands lawmakers approved the change to the Criminal Procedure Code on Friday.

Attorney General Sam Bulgin said that prior provisions in the Criminal Procedure Code were “not wide enough” to allow for the video conferencing on bail and attorney-client communication matters. He also noted that video conferencing measures would prevent prison officers from being taken off the job at Northward to transport inmates back and forth for what are typically five-minute bail hearings.

In the past year, there have been some security problems involving prisoner transport.

In February 2013, 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 lock when the driver got out, trapping the prisoners in the back of the van, with the keys locked inside.

Prison officials said it took about 20 minutes to unlock the van once they were notified of the situation. In the interim, one of the prisoners trapped inside collapsed.

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 out, 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 in the back of the van were checked out at hospital as well.

In addition to security concerns, another issue is overcrowding at the downtown George Town court complex. In one instance, on July 17, 2013, 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.

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