Law passed this year provides for use of technology
Six men helped make local history when they appeared in court on Tuesday without leaving Northward Prison.
They appeared via a video link between Court Room 2 in the Law Courts Building and the prison compound.
The technical equipment has been in the court room for several years and has been used to enable witnesses in other locations to give evidence in trials. For inmates to make their appearances electronically, the Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code on Feb. 1 to provide the legal framework.
Magistrate Valdis Foldats explained that, with the agreement of the defendant and the prosecution, an accused person who is confined to prison may appear in court via a live television link to engage in simultaneous visual and oral communication for matters that are not complicated.
Tuesday’s video link had been scheduled for noon, but the magistrate’s six-page mention list meant that it took a little longer to deal with defendants who were physically present. Court marshal Nora Ebanks kept in contact with the prison via phone and at 12:28 p.m., the image of a prison guard appeared on a large screen attached to the east wall of the court room. In the upper right hand corner of the screen was a small insert box showing the view that the person at the prison was seeing at his end.
The first man to appear on camera confirmed that he could see the magistrate and was “hearing you all right.” He stood against a plain white wall background, with a prison guard sitting to the side.
The magistrate told the defendant, “Today is a different type of appearance for you because you’re obviously not in the courtroom.” He explained that the video link was in the interest of efficient administration of justice – people in custody at the prison should not have to be transported to town and then sit in court house cells before being called up for a mention that would take just a few minutes.
In this first case, the mention was to confirm that officers had a production warrant for the defendant to be brought to the Drug Rehabilitation Court session next week.
The second defendant, charged with possessing offensive weapons, was confirmed for an appearance in the Mental Health Court later this month. The third defendant, charged with common assault against another prisoner, had a court date set.
The next man, charged with possession of ganja at the prison, pleaded not guilty and had his trial date set.
Only one defendant voiced any negative opinion about the procedure. “I don’t prefer this. I prefer coming to court,” Ryan Ebanks said.
The magistrate reminded him, “Last time you were complaining about how long you had to wait in the cells.”
Ebanks agreed that he had said that; he didn’t mind coming to court in person, he just preferred to get dealt with faster.
Whatever his preference, he will be coming to court in person next time because he was charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent, a matter that can be dealt with only in Grand Court. The charge was transmitted to the higher court with a mention there on June 13. The magistrate told Ebanks he would order a production warrant “so you will be here physically.”
The next defendant also received the explanation for the video link – that it saved the prisoner from having to travel to town in the prison van and saved him from having to wait in the cells. People in the courtroom had trouble hearing this defendant and the magistrate asked him several times to speak more slowly or get closer to the microphone.
The magistrate also asked if the sound was good on the defendant’s end. He was told, “Yes, sir.”
The magistrate then repeated what he thought the defendant had said and the defendant agreed. A new date was set.
The final defendant scheduled for the video link did not appear. A guard reported that the man had said he had a headache and would be unable to talk. The magistrate set another mention for the next video link date, June 10.
The court list originally had eight defendants lined up for the video link, but the attorney for one asked that he be brought in person so that she could confer with him.
The electronic court session lasted just over 30 minutes.