Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin, who is also the Minister of Legal Affairs, said, “serious consideration” was being given to introducing judge-alone trials for some criminal matters in the High Court.
Speaking at a virtual Special Sitting for the opening of the 2021 Law Year for the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court on Wednesday, the AG said because of the health protocols set up to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 “the decision was taken to restrict or end jury trials.”
“Judicial officers, attorneys, jurors and witnesses alike were apprehensive and downright afraid to attend court”, Benjamin said.
“Jury trials, as we all are aware, often require great numbers of persons to be gathered together in a courtroom at the same time for long periods. This caused angst and consternation among the stakeholders involved”, he explained.
Benjamin said despite the suspension of these trials, “through stringent case management, outstanding matters during this period often came to a satisfactory conclusion through guilty pleas, or by discontinuance. By these means, outstanding matters were reduced significantly.”
He said to encourage and continue criminal trials “the courtrooms and jury rooms will be retrofitted to ensure the safety of all stakeholders involved. It is hoped that criminal trials will resume fully in January 2021.”
“Discussions are ongoing, presently, touching the question of trials by judge alone in some criminal matters. That is being given very serious consideration at this time”, the Attorney General revealed.