IT’S barely more than seven months since we recorded the first case of Covid-19 on our shores.
We’re experiencing different stages of weariness from the extreme protective measures being taken to prevent the transmission of this deadly virus. There is no end in sight… for the moment.
The judiciary has had to adapt very quickly to protect its membership, employees and all users of the courts. I’ve been keeping you updated on some of the measures the judiciary has implemented, and today I will highlight some of its latest efforts.
The Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago Ivor Archie introduced Practice Direction No. 6, published in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette Volume 59 No. 63 dated September 16, 2020 and titled: “Court Operations Covid-19 Pandemic Directions with effect from September 16 2020”.
This document is freely available to the pubic online and can be accessed using this link: http://www.ttlawcourts.org/index.php/component/attachments/download/7448
Six important measures contained in this latest Practice Direction are summarised as follows:
- Court hearings are to be conducted by electronic means until further notice. No in-person hearings are permitted. This means there will be no hearings where judges, their staff, lawyers or the parties are sitting in a physical courtroom. There are limited exceptions for domestic violence matters and cases where it is impossible to conduct hearings by electronic means or where in the opinion of the court, a hearing by electronic means is not in the interests of justice.
The judiciary has implemented hearings by electronic means using a software platform called Microsoft Teams. A few days before your hearing, the court sends a link by email which you click to join your hearing before a Judge. There is no need to even leave your home. All you need is a computer with internet access.
In practice though, this is not always happening. In a personal example, I received a court notice from a High Court judge issued after this Practice Direction, directing all the parties to physically appear at a courtroom in the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, for a hearing called a case management conference.
- All jury trials have been temporarily suspended.
- Court documents are to filed electronically only. This applies equally to the magistrates’ courts and the Supreme Courts. Manual filings have been stopped, except for the filing of certain documents in the Probate Registry (which deals with the estates of deceased persons).
- Electronic filing kiosks remain available to the public for self-represented persons who have no other means to file their court documents electronically. They are available at the Hall of Justice, Supreme Courts at San Fernando and Tobago, the Children’s Court, North and South and the Family Court, North and Tobago.
- Persons desirous of conducting business at any of the District Criminal and Traffic Court’s court office are required to make an enquiry or request an appointment by telephone or by emailing the request to the relevant court location. Details of the email addresses and telephone numbers to be used are set out in the Practice Direction.
- Access to the courts to conduct business is by appointment only. Attorneys and members of the public are required to make an appointment in advance. Any person granted access must wear an appropriate mask covering their nose and mouth. Compliance with other health and safely protocols is required, such as the taking of temperatures, using provided hand sanitisers and social distancing.
That’s it in a nutshell. I’ll keep you posted on any further changes. Be safe Trinidad and Tobago!
Copyright © 2020 Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C is a Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. For legal advice on your specific situation, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly. Liability for any loss or damage of any kind whatsoever allegedly incurred a consequence of using content in this article is thus hereby excluded to the fullest extent permitted by law.