JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck says witnesses testifying from remote locations — as is now the case in the Supreme Court trial involving 33 individuals accused of being members of the notorious Klansman Gang — should be a reality for every parish court by 2022.
The justice minister, who was speaking during a virtual quarterly press briefing at the ministry Tuesday, said towards that end all courts across Jamaica will shortly be connected by broadband and will also be upgraded with Internet connectivity.
“So, before the end of the year, keeping my fingers crossed, (that) the money is available, to utilise it with the service providers [to have the courts] updated with the best broadband and Internet connectivity so that each parish will be able to do virtual court hearings,” Chuck said.
“In essence, what you are seeing now in the Supreme Court will be possible in every parish court by 2022. It means that if the police stations can be upgraded with Internet facility, there is no need to bring the accused from the police station to the court. They could be in a witness box in the police station or in the prisons there could be a witness box and so more virtual hearings could be held across all the parishes of Jamaica. And we hope that by 2022 that will be possible,” he added.
“Not only that it be possible, but we hope in appropriate cases, that it will be possible for anyone who doesn't want to attend court should be able to log on and see what is happening in any courtroom in appropriate cases. Just as now, you can hear the audio in the Supreme Court in the gang trial. The video is possible but for security reasons, only the audio is now being provided. In appropriate cases both the audio and video will be available,” the justice minister said.
In the meantime, he said the ministry has already “outfitted two buses that will be utilised or can be utilised as witness boxes”.
“In essence just as you see the witness now in the gang trial who is giving evidence from a remote location, it will be possible that witnesses who are afraid to go to court [like sex abuse] victims who don't want to be in the witness box looking at the offender in the [dock] can now be allowed to give her evidence from a remote location in one of these mobile witness buses. Children can also use these buses [which] will be at remote locations,” he told the briefing.
In the ongoing trial to which the justice minister referred, a main witness for the Crown has since last Wednesday been giving evidence from a remote location against the accused members of the alleged criminal outfit. The trial, which involves the largest number of accused to ever be tried together for a single matter, began last Monday in the Home Circuit Division of the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston. The matter, which is being tried by a single judge because jury trials have been suspended due to the pandemic, is spread across two courtrooms and involves some 40 attorneys.
The star witness in the King Valley Trial which ended in July last year also testified from a remote location.
— Alicia Dunkley-Willis