Constitution Hall, formerly the Town Hall in George Town, will be transformed into a courtroom from Tuesday, as magistrates prepare to hear hundreds of hard-curfew breach cases.
According to a statement from Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, 25 people charged in the Summary Court with breaches of the hard curfew will appear in the hall for a first mention hearing on Tuesday, 19 May.
At the 7 May COVID-19 press briefing, Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne stated that 298 people had been warned for prosecution by police for breaching the hard curfew. Those were the latest numbers released.
The hard-curfew hearings will be held at Constitution Hall to ensure appropriate social-distancing measures are adhered to, the chief justice said, with five people being summoned at half-hour intervals. He said 25 people will be presented before the court each day, although this week, only the 25 cases on Tuesday are being heard.
A breach of a hard-curfew order carries a penalty of a $3,000 fine or imprisonment for up to one year, or both.
Criminal trials to commence
No jury trials have been held since the shelter-in-place regulations were implemented in March, resulting in “an inevitable and significant impact upon the disposal of criminal cases, especially trials by jury because of the obvious risks which would be attendant upon having jurors sit and confer together in close quarters for the trials and deliberations”, according to the statement by Smellie.
The statement continued, “But now that the society (and business community in particular), gradually return to work, so too will court activities more fully resume, albeit in a managed and incremental way. In the interests of justice, it is of paramount importance that trials resume so that justice may be administered timely, especially for those persons who are awaiting trial in custody or on bail.”
Criminal trials will commence this week, first in the Summary Court and judge-alone trials in the Grand Court. From 1 July, jury trials in the Grand Court are expected to begin.
“The public are assured that Judicial Administration staff are actively preparing for the return of those court users who must attend in person, with the appropriate protocols regarding health, safety and crowd limits (social distancing). These measures must and will be strictly applied,” Smellie said.
Cayman’s court system has been using remote hearings via video-link since 2014, as part of an effort to reduce the need for prison officers to bring defendants to court on a daily basis. The Judicial Administration pointed out that video-links have also been used in commercial trials since 2000.
“This service has drastically increased as a result of COVID-19 and is likely to become a mainstay feature of court procedure going forward. For instance, only this past week, we successfully convened the court of Appeal Easter Session with the President and Justices of Appeal presiding in Court in Cayman by video links from their respective homes in the UK,” the chief justice said in the statement.
He added that while video-link technology will be appropriate for many hearings, “it may not at this time, be adopted as a mandatory substitute for open court trials, where the defendant has a constitutional and legal right to a public hearing and to appear in person before the court.”
Dates of court trial resumptions
- 19 May: Summary Court resumes criminal trials, starting with cases involving breaches of the hard curfew.
- 25 May: Summary Court resumes hearing all other criminal trials.
- 28 May: Summary Court resumes in-person attendance at the Drug Rehabilitation Court. Testing for that court will resume on 25 May.
- 16 June: Summary Court resumes hearing all Traffic Court matters.
- 1 July: Grand Court jury trials resume. The names of those who will be called to serve as jurors have been settled by the random computer selection process from the Voters List and summonses will be issued this week.
Administratively adjourned cases
Defendants whose cases have been subject to the rolling 28-day adjournment since the shelter-in-place regulations came into effect, are advised that they are required to attend court at their next scheduled court date.
The Judicial Administration is advising that all defendants should check the court website for notice of the date for the hearing of their cases, from now until further notice.
Everyone, including defendants attending court, must wear a mask upon entering the building and will be required to sanitise their hands upon entry, the court statement said.
Defendants who require further information can call the Criminal Registry Help Desk on 244-3867 or email: [email protected]
The courts offices are not open to the general public at this time, except for attendance of court hearings.
In order to ensure proper social distancing, the proceedings will be broadcast by a live stream to a dedicated location (either Constitution Hall or Court 4) where a limited number of members of the public can observe the proceedings.