JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck has urged individuals with minor offences who know they are guilty to plead guilty and lessen the burden on the court system post-COVID-19.
“To all litigants in the courts, now is an opportunity to rethink your case. The courts have said guilty pleas will be accepted and especially in the parish court. I would say persons with minor offences who know they are guilty, speak to your lawyer with a view to plead guilty; and at this time I know the judges will hopefully extend a lot of courtesy and don’t send you to prison,” the justice minister said.
“This is the opportunity to close your case. It is the same with litigants in civil matters — if the participants, especially the attorneys, can discuss and settle the matter, then you can ease the burden when the courts reopen,” Chuck added.
He, however, emphasised “we don’t want persons who are not guilty to plead guilty”.
The minister, who was speaking during a digital town hall meeting put on by the ministry, said that notwithstanding this pandemic crisis, the courts, Ministry of Justice and the Government are still open for business, albeit in very limited circumstances.
He said while trials have been put off until later in the year, consistent with social distancing requirements, other matters are still being dealt with by the courts.
“What is important to note is that in this crisis, the chief justice, Supreme Court judges, parish court judges, the attorneys — we are all looking how we can innovate and be creative in responding to the challenges in the justice system.
The courts continue to operate using technology – bail applications are taking place; matters such as case management, access to the court registries, and a number of matters that will be engaged in using technology. What is important is for all litigants to know that the courts have not shut down; it is operating and many services are being offered,” Chuck added.
Meanwhile, accused persons living in St Catherine who are on bail with reporting conditions have been granted a reprieve from reporting due to the current lockdown in the parish. Bail hearings for people in that parish are in the meantime being heard by the Supreme Court.
Chief Parish Court Judge Chester Crooks, speaking during the forum, said extraordinary steps have been taken in the parish courts “to significantly scale down operations”.
“Of course in St Catherine we had to shut down the courts, pending lifting of the parish-wide curfew now in effect for St Catherine. We have maintained a skeleton staff at the parish courts to deal with emergency matters such as habeas corpus applications, bail hearings; in terms of the family court and the children’s court, matters dealing with domestic violence, maintenance payments and of course emergency matters involving children,” he explained. He said the senior parish judge for each parish has the ultimate discretion in any other matter they deem an emergency.
All formal sittings of courts have been further suspended until May 11, depending on the decisions of the Government regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
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