The Summary Court extended into downtown’s Constitution Hall on Tuesday, allowing the island’s first batch of hard-curfew cases to proceed in open court under established social-distancing and public-health protocols.
Five defendants were allowed into the hall at a time and all were required to wear a face mask and to sanitise their hands before entering. Chairs were cleaned by court staff in between hearings.
The 23 cases heard Tuesday dealt in large part with breaches of hard-curfew regulations implemented through the Police Law during a 58-hour lockdown period from 25-28 March. For many of the defendants appearing before Magistrate Valdis Foldats, the curfew-violation charges against them marked their first brush with the law, with few having any criminal record.
Foldats took a compassionate approach, recognising the extenuating circumstances of the times and the financial hardship that steep fines or imprisonment may place on the community. The Police Law allows for a $3,000 fine, imprisonment of up to one year or both for hard-curfew violations.
“My job is not to put financial pressure on people,” Foldats repeated throughout the morning’s proceedings.
While several $500 fines were handed down, Foldats sought to implement community service as an alternative punishment for individuals already facing financial difficulties.
A couple that experienced car trouble and were later stopped on the road during the curfew period were given community service rather than a fine, after the judge recognised that the wife’s employment at a local media company was precarious.
“Your job is up in the air,” Foldats said. “Money is tight. Bottom line.”
Foldats asked the Crown to review charges against another couple, accused of paddleboarding in front of their beachfront home during the 58-hour lockdown.
“I question the need to prosecute it,” he said, adding there were other cases where he had similar concerns.
Other charges arising from the 58-hour lockdown involved a man riding his bike, a local chef driving in search of food, a man who said he was out trying to find a place to charge his phone, and a couple who said they left their property to check on a fire.
Foldats questioned the fairness of charges against a man accused of operating an illegal business and asked the court to determine if charges had also been brought against his employer.
“If the employer was not charged, is it fair to proceed against the employee?” Foldats asked.
The man was asked to return for a second hearing on 25 June.
Several cases with complicating factors were rescheduled. A man charged with drunk driving and a woman facing theft and wounding charges were asked to return in June.
Foldats also requested the prosecution review on compassionate grounds the case of a man attempting to visit his partner in hospital during curfew.