Historic Completion of a Judge-Alone Trial for Murder by Electronic Means
The Criminal Division of the High Court today completed another historic first with a Judge Alone Trial for the charge of murder conducted primarily through electronic means. The case was conducted in the main through the use of video conferencing facilities, electronic filings, evidence and submissions, with only two of the fourteen witnesses being accommodated in person although it had been decided that only one witness was required to give evidence in person.
The Judge-Alone Trial in the matter of CR. 105/2015 The State v Quincy Martinez aka “Bookie”, was presided over by the Honourable Mme. Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds, using the guidance of the Practice Direction issued by the Honourable Chief Justice on March 16, 2020. The Practice Direction encouraged the use of electronic and technological solutions for all hearings. The trial, which commenced on Friday 15th May 2020 was concluded on Tuesday 19th May 2020. The Judge after deliberation, gave her decision today, with Mr. Martinez being found “not guilty” and discharged after 12 years on remand.
In her decision, Mme. Justice Ramsumair-Hinds remarked that the Practice Directions “merely pierce the veil to allow a peek at the efficiency of the machinery that drives the vision and mission of this Judiciary” and that “virtual hearings provided for improved service delivery and continued access to justice in spite of the general stay-at-home regulations and COVID-19 best practices.”
The Judge also highlighted:
“For some, the view has been that the use of electronic means in the Criminal Division should be limited to case management, remand adjournments and bail, steering quite clear of the main event of the criminal trial. That thinking has slowly been replaced by an appreciation that the use of electronic means has great potential to mitigate several hindrances to the trial process.”
Both Prosecution and Defence Counsel shared their positive experiences with virtual proceedings. Defence Counsel Morgan remarked that “this is a huge step forward for the Judiciary and for access to criminal justice on the whole in Trinidad and Tobago” as he shared with the Court his ability to cross examine and manoeuvre through exhibits using screen-sharing functionality, the collaboration with the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service so that Instructing Counsel could speak with the Prisoner, and his and his client’s opinion on the fairness of the proceedings.
Counsel for the State Ms Laloo Chong remarked that she agreed with defence counsel in that “we were able to run smoothly, we were able to adhere to the timelines as set…it really does bode well for us—for future matters”.
Since the publication of the Practice Direction by the Honourable Chief Justice, the Judiciary has conducted over 5,800 virtual hearings. Many of these have also been made possible by the establishment of Video Conferencing Centres at the various Prison facilities, including the Maximum Security Prison at Golden Grove and the Santa Rosa Prison Facility.