Curfew cases continue: ‘Ignorance no defence’

A man enters Constitution Hall during the first day of curfew cases.
A man enters Constitution Hall during the first day of curfew cases. - Photo: Alvaro Serey

The second week of curfew-violation cases began Monday at Summary Court’s spillover location, Constitution Hall, in downtown George Town.

The secondary site at the former Town Hall has allowed the courts to implement social-distancing protocols while continuing to hear criminal matters in person.

Magistrate Valdis Foldats has been tasked with reviewing the hundreds of soft and hard curfew charges handed down by police since lockdown measures began in March. He estimated he had presided over 100 cases during the first week of hearings.

By his second week, Foldats had polished a speech, presented to each cohort of defendants entering his courtroom, about the extraordinary circumstances impacting Cayman and the world.

He recognised the difficulty faced by defendants to appear in person, given the limited availability of public transportation and childcare, among other barriers.

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“I’m thanking you because we understand how difficult times are right now,” he said.

“Who would have ever thought, other than on TV or watching some Hollywood movie, that the entire world would be affected by something like this?”

It is the role of the court, however, to send a public message about the severity of curfew violations, he said, adding that “ignorance of the law is no defence”.

While he sympathised with the inconvenience of curfew measures, he said individuals must educate themselves about the virus and adhere to public-health recommendations.

“I can’t stand this. I don’t want to wear a mask. I don’t want to socially distance. I don’t want to stay at home,” Foldats said. “But, my wife explained – ‘those are selfish feelings. It’s not about you. It’s about the community.’ …

“Let’s all do our part and listen to my wife.”

He warned defendants against abusing exemption letters to partake in activities beyond the permissions provided.

One man, employed by A.L. Thompson’s, presented an exemption letter to justify working during curfew. Through questioning, however, Foldats found that the work carried out had not been for A.L. Thompson’s but for a contractor that was not included in the exemption letter.

“An exemption doesn’t allow people to do what they want,” Foldats said. “You must stay at home unless allowed within specific exemptions.”

He warned work-permit holders that such violations could hinder their ability to continue working legally in the Cayman Islands.

Foldats did not make a strong distinction between violations committed during soft curfew, or shelter-in-place hours, versus hard-curfew hours. He said he sought to administer similar punishments for similar violations.

A pair of roommates who went for a walk on a Sunday, a hard-curfew day, were each given a $500 fine, to be paid by September.

For individuals who plead guilty and have no criminal history, Foldats explained that a $500 fine has typically been appropriate.

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